Four join science academy

09 November 2009

No fewer than four UCT scholars were initiated into the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) recently.

The new members are Associate Professor Jennifer Case of the Department of Chemical Engineering, Professor Alan Flisher of the Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Professor John Higgins of the Department of English Language and Literature, and Emeritus Professor Christopher Saunders of the Department of Historical Studies.

If the inclusion of Higgins and Saunders appears odd at first, it's not, actually. Topping the organisation's mission statement is its goal to promote common ground in scientific thinking across all disciplines, including the human, social and economic sciences. At last count, some 110 of the academy's nearly 350 members hail from the humanities, social sciences, education and law fields.

Membership of the academy is by election only, and the "academicians thus represent an organised, independent but responsive scholarly voice to help guide the development of the country and its people".

Jennifer CaseJennifer Case is director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Chemical Engineering, where her research is focused on understanding student learning in tertiary science and engineering. She is also a member of ASSAf's recently formed Science, Technology and Mathematics Education committee, which ran a successful recent forum on the issues around school maths and science education. It's a topic the academy is well placed to tackle, believes Case. "ASSAf is the body that can draw together the expertise of South Africa's science community to address important issues of the day," she says. "It is important that ASSAf gets involved in finding ways to improve the situation in South African schools."

Alan FlisherAlan Flisher is the Sue Streungmann Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry & Mental Health at UCT, and his work in child psychiatry straddles the clinical and the social. His recent studies have looked at everything from substance abuse and the treatment of delirium to adolescent risk behaviour and treatment practices among traditional healers. ASSAf, then, fits in well with the broad scope of Flisher's work. "ASSAf provides the opportunity to participate in co-ordinated efforts to enhance the social responsiveness dimension to our work as scientists in South Africa," he says.

John HigginsJohn Higgins is currently an Andrew W Mellon Research Professor in the new Archives and Public Culture project at UCT, headed by NRF Research Chair Carolyn Hamilton. Author of the award-winning study, Raymond Williams: Literature, Marxism and Cultural Materialism, his work urges and embodies a critical literacy that addresses the interface between the world and its texts. He is a member of the ASSAf expert panel examining the role of the humanities in contemporary society.

Christopher SaundersChristopher Saunders' scholarly interests lie in the 20th century history of Southern Africa, a theme he's explored extensively over decades of research. His ties to ASSAf are more recent, from when he became associate editor for the humanities of the academy's official publication, the South African Journal of Science. In keeping with its multidisciplinary mantra, this is part of the academy's attempt to broaden the scope of the journal, says Saunders, by including material on the humanities that could be relevant to scientists.

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