Professor Alison Lewis was one of four UCT winners at the annual Department of Science and Technology's Women in Science Awards (WISA) held in Johannesburg on 11 August. Dr Muthoni Masinde received the Distinguished Young Women Researchers – Research and Innovation award while Belinda Speed and Xolisile Thusini took home the DST Doctoral Scholarship and the Tata Africa Master's Scholarship respectively.
The awards are part of government's efforts to recognise and reward the achievements of South African women in science and research.
The theme for the awards was Women's empowerment and its link to sustainable development, which is the 2016 priority theme for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
In her introductory speech, minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, said: “The Women in Science Awards is not only a special event. It also makes a more subtle contribution. It allows young women to dream of a life in science.”
By profiling women scientists and researchers as role models, the awards encourage younger women to join and remain in science-related careers.
Professor Alison Lewis
Lewis, dean of UCT's Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment, was awarded the Distinguished Woman Scientist – Research and Innovation award for her overall contribution to research and innovation in the physical and engineering sciences.
Her longstanding interest in water and water treatment in an increasingly water-scarce South Africa led to her research into the treatment of acid mine drainage. This resulted in a process called eutectic freeze crystallisation, which converts contaminated mine water into clean potable water.
The process involves freezing fresh water out of the hyper-saline brine which makes up acid mine drainage before separating out the individual salts by freezing them at individual (eutectic) temperatures. The process has advanced to the point where it is being commercialised – with a plant being implemented at Coaltech's Optimum Colliery in Mpumalanga and another in the pipeline for Eskom.
Lewis and her team were rewarded for this research last year when they won the special Knowledge Tree Award from the Water Research Commission for “new products and services for economic development”.
Lewis is also a finalist for the Standard Bank Top Women in Science award, which is a collaborative platform dedicated to recognising outstanding leadership, inspiration, vision and innovation within the private and public sectors.
The winners of the Standard Bank award will be announced on 18 August.
Read more about Lewis's research
Dr Muthoni Masinde
Dr Muthoni Masinde, who obtained her PhD from UCT in 2012 and currently works as a senior lecturer and head of ICT at the Central University of Technology (CUT) in the Free State, received the Distinguished Young Women Researchers – Research and Innovation award.
Masinde's PhD entailed the development of a tool which combines African indigenous knowledge of natural disasters with information and communication technologies, such as artificial intelligence, wireless sensor networks and mobile phones, to accurately predict droughts.
Masinde's contribution to drought forecasting led to the establishment of a CUT research unit on informatics for drought in Africa.
Belinda Speed, who is completing her PhD in forensic medicine in the Department of Pathology, received the DST Doctoral Fellowship. Using pig carcasses as a substitute for human bodies, Speed's research focuses on the baseline decomposition rates of bodies in the marine environment in the Western Cape climate.
Her research aims to provide comparative data that can be used by local forensic anthropologists to help identify bodies and provide sound evidence in court cases. Speed hopes that this will provide closure to families who have lost loved ones.
Read more about Speed's research
Xolisile Thusini, who is completing her master's in experimental high-energy physics in UCT's Department of Physics, received the Tata Africa Scholarship. Her research project on the ATLAS experiment (a particle physics experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN) is helping to search for the extremely rare fundamental interactions: the same sign W boson scattering within proton–proton collisions produced by the Large Hadron Collider.
Story Pete van der Woude. Photo Je'nine May.
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