Researchers rake in NRF ratings

05 June 2006

No university in South Africa wants to stand charged of showboating. But a couple of smirks and high-fives around campus are certainly in order following the recent round of ratings by the National Research Foundation (NRF). For one, UCT now boasts 262 rated researchers in total, more than any other institution in the country. It also features more rated researchers in four of the six NRF categories, including the A-ratings and the increasingly coveted P-ratings for young researchers who show the potential to become future leaders in their fields. And, for good measure, no fewer than 31 researchers have received ratings from the NRF for the first time. One of these, Dr Pavan Naicker, has since left UCT, but we thought we'd briefly introduce the rest. That high number of inductees, it would appear, is some kind of record for UCT (and perhaps other institutions as well). "I am very pleased that our researchers put themselves forward for rating," commented deputy vice-chancellor for research and innovation, Professor Cheryl de la Rey. "The success of our applicants informs us that our researchers enjoy international recognition for the quality and impact of their research. This contributes to building our international reputation as a research-led university."

Dr Rebecca Ackermann (archaeology): Ackermann is a biological anthropologist who studies the evolution and the development of the skull in humans and non-human primates. Her current work focuses on identifying the morphological signatures of hybridisation, selection, and genetic drift in our hominin ancestors.

Assoc Prof Neil Armitage (civil engineering): Armitage has been doing research into the use of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) for the prediction of local scour around engineering structures in rivers, and urban catchment litter management.

Dr Lutz Auerswald (zoology): Auerswald's research centres on invertebrate physiology. In particular, the regulation of flight metabolism in insects by peptide hormones; crustaceans as a source of chitin and astaxanthin (valuable biomaterials); and adverse reactions to seafood (histamine, crustacean allergy).

Prof Vivian Bickford-Smith (historical studies): Bickford-Smith does work in urban history, Cape Town history, film and history, and race and ethnic identity in South Africa.

Assoc Prof Vasco Brattka (maths and applied maths): Brattka's research area is called Computability and Complexity in Analysis, and its purpose is to understand the power and the limitations of computers operating on real numbers and other infinite data (see for more information).

Assoc Prof Gordon Brown (immunology, and the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine [IIDMM]): Brown's research is into innate immunity, looking at pattern recognition receptors on the immune cells.

Dr Jenni Case (chemical engineering and the academic development programme of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment): By nature of her twin calling, Case's interest lies in improving the quality of teaching and learning in tertiary science and engineering programmes, looking at, among other things, students' approaches to learning and perceptions of the educational context.

Prof Lynette Denny (obstetrics & gynaecology, and the IIDMM): Denny's work is in finding ways to prevent cervical cancer in resource-poor settings, and the holistic management of survivors of sexual assault.

Prof George Janelidze (maths & applied maths): Janelidze works in pure mathematics, specifically in category theory and its applications in algebra, topology, geometry and logic.

Assoc PrOf Mohamed Jeebhay (School of Public Health): Jeebhay's research focuses on bioaerosols causing occupational allergy and asthma among workers in the fruit farming, wood, grain, bakery and seafood processing industries. He is currently involved in a large-scale intervention study to reduce the incidence of allergy in asthma in supermarket bakeries in the Western Cape.

Assoc Prof Jennifer Jelsma (physiotherapy): Jelsma looks at health-related quality-of-life issues among adults and children, particularly those with HIV and disabilities. She also conducts studies into movement development among children with HIV and cerebral palsy.

Prof Sue Kidson (human biology, and the IIDMM): Kidson's interest lies in the development of the eye and associated abnormalities, as well as general pigmentary disorders, such as albinism and vitiligo.

Prof Renée Kraan-Korteweg (astronomy): For her work, Kraan-Korteweg focuses on the large-scale distribution of galaxies in the nearby universe, in particular the uncovering of galaxies in the so-called Zone of Avoidance where the dust and stars of our own Milky Way obscure them from our view.

Assoc Prof Mike LamberT (exercise science & sports medicine): Lambert's research thrust encompasses research on muscle, particularly muscle damage and regeneration, and the implication these factors have on performance. An underlying theme of his research has been to get a better understanding of muscle physiology with the goal of improving performance.

Fritha Langerman (fine art): In her research, Langerman specialises in the areas of printmaking, bookarts and museum display. More specifically, she is concerned with the vocabulary that art, specifically printmaking, has given biomedical science in the visualisation of its discipline and the implications that this may have for the manner in which both contemporary printmaking and biomedical imaging are symbolically understood.

Dr Sandrine Lecour (cardiology): The aim of Lecour's work is to explore the cellular pathways that can promote protection against ischemic heart disease.

Dr Heather Marco (zoology): Marco's research is mostly on neuropeptide hormones of the west coast rock lobster, Jasus lalandii - isolating and characterising the many different neuropeptides that are found in the eyestalks of the rock lobster. She also does comparative endocrinology on insects, alongside her A-rated colleague, Prof Gerd Gäde.

Assoc Prof Sagadevan Mundree (molecular & cell biology, and CEO of PlantBio, the National Innovation Centre for Plant Biotechnology): Mundree is currently working on using a variety of molecular approaches to isolate and characterise genes from the resurrection plant Xerophyta viscosa that are functionally important in conferring tolerance to osmotic stress.

Prof William Nasson (historical studies): Nasson, one of the university's A-rated researchers, conducts research into the South African War of 1899-1902, as well as South Africa's role in the Great War (World War I).

>Dr Edward Ojuka (exercise science & sports medicine): Ojuka does work on the molecular mechanisms responsible for exercise-induced protection against insulin resistance and type II diabetes.

Prof Iqbal Parker (medical biochemistry, and the IIDMM): Parker does research into oesophageal cancer, exploring everything from epidemiology to molecular biology and genetics.

Dr Jo-Ann Passmore (medical virology): The work carried out by Passmore explores HIV-specific immune responses present in the female genital tract in both established and early HIV infection, and compares these to dominant HIV responses in blood.

Dr Éva Plagányi (maths and applied maths): Plagányi's work focuses on developing mathematical models of marine systems, inter alia to provide scientific advice on sustainable quotas for fisheries such as the abalone resource. She is interested in extending single-species approaches in population assessments to more complex models of multi-species interactions to address questions such as that of the competition between marine mammals and fisheries.

Assoc Prof Fiona Ross (social anthropology): Ross' recent work has been on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). For this, she examined gendered testimonial practices before the Human Rights Violations Committee, showing how institutional processes (such as the TRC) that do not pay specific attention to women's experiences and their courage have the effect of erasing their contributions and the specific forms of their suffering from the historical record.

Dr Rob Simmons (zoology, Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology): Simmons specialises in population ecology, behavioural ecology and life history theory. His academic research interests have focused on the ecology and evolution of raptorial birds.

Assoc Prof Melissa Steyn (Institute for Intercultural and Diversity Studies): Steyn's work focuses mostly on social identity and various aspects of diversity - race, gender, sexuality, ability and culture. Her work on whiteness in post-apartheid South Africa, in particular the book, Whiteness just isn't what it used to be: White identity in a changing South Africa (SUNY Press, 2001) has received a great deal of international recognition.

Assoc Prof Sebastian Van As (paediatric surgery): The main focus of Van As' research has been into liver transplantation and, more recently, the management as well as the prevention of child trauma.

Prof Zephne Van der Spuy (obstetrics & gynaecology): Van der Spuy's work concentrates on the field of reproductive medicine, particularly contraceptive and interceptive research. This has included investigating the possibility of developing a hormonal contraceptive preparation for men and novel contraceptive options for women.

Assoc Prof Lance Van Sittert (historical studies): Van Sittert works in the field of Southern African environmental history, with a particular emphasis on the identification and collation of historical quantitative data with interdisciplinary applications.

Assoc Prof Carolyn Williamson (medical virology, and the IIDMM): Williamson directs a research programme in the IIDMM focusing on HIV diversity, pathogenesis and vaccine development. She is currently involved in the design and development of subtype C DNA and MVA candidate HIV vaccines for clinical trial as part of the South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative (SAAVI) development programme.

Want to know some more about the NRF rating system? Then check out the document The NRF Evaluation & Rating System. The document springs from the NRF's Rich Data Mine Project on South African research and researchers.

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