UCT’s finalists for this year’s ‘Science Oscars’

01 June 2022 | Story Merlyn Nomusa Nkomo. Photo Libby Young. Read time 6 min.

In recognition of their outstanding research and innovative contributions to science, engineering and technology, four scientists and a research team from the University of Cape Town (UCT) have been selected as finalists in five categories for the 2021/2022 NSTF-South32 Awards. Their work ranges from developing cost-effective vaccines to advancing sports science, designing safety into African transport systems and advancing new frontiers in robotics engineering.

The National Science and Technology Forum Awards, in partnership with South-32, also known as the ‘Science Oscars’, are the most prestigious research awards in South Africa. Since 1998, they have celebrated the work of those advancing the sustainable socio-economic growth of the nation and improving the quality of life for South Africans.

This year, the NSTF-South 32 Awards will be held on 21 July under the theme: Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development, inspired by the United Nations’ theme for 2022. A special award related to this theme has been added to the year’s line-up. The Awards Gala Dinner will be held as a hybrid event and simultaneously from two venues in Johannesburg and Cape Town, and will be broadcast live on the NSTF YouTube Channel.

The UCT finalists

Dr Sharief Hendricks
TW Kambule-NSTF Awards: Researcher

Dr Sharief Hendricks, a senior lecturer in the Division of Physiological Sciences in the UCT Department of Human Biology, grew up in Mitchell’s Plain where his passion for sport and hard work led him into a career of research in improving sporting conditions and welfare for athletes and preventing injury. Apart from being globally recognised, his work has had an impact on the evolution of rugby scrum laws in South Africa, reducing the incidence of injuries and optimising performance. He was listed among the Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans in 2019. Hendricks is also a visiting fellow at the Leeds Beckett University in England.

Dr Emmanuel Margolin
TW Kambule-NSTF Awards: Emerging Researcher
Special Annual Theme Award: Basic Sciences for Sustainability

Dr Emmanuel Margolin, from the UCT Faculty of Health Sciences, is the director of research and development at Molecular Farming (Nant-SA), one of the first vaccine-manufacturing plants in Africa. Before the launch of Nant-SA, Margolin did his postdoctoral fellowship at the Antivira Vaccine Development Group in the UCT Division of Virology. His work encompasses research on developing vaccines for HIV, SARS-CoV-2 and other emerging viruses. Margolin developed a way to produce vaccines from plant proteins that was not possible before. This new technology could make it possible for Africa to produce cost-efficient and rapidly scalable vaccines, thereby helping to curtail the continent’s reliance on the Global North. Margolin’s research is anticipated to have applications that extend into treatments for cancer and infectious diseases.

Associate Professor Amir Patel
TW Kambule-NSTF Awards: Emerging Researcher

Associate Professor Amir Patel is a robotics engineer in the UCT Department of Electrical Engineering. His research investigates innovative motion capture systems for wildlife locomotion. He aims to understand the dynamics of animals’ rapid manoeuvres by studying their morphology and sensory control. Two robotic platforms have been developed in his lab: Dima, a cheetah-inspired robot with a tail, and Baleka, Africa’s first bipedal robot. Patel’s work ranges from human biomechanics to neuroscience and currently covers remote sensing the health of wild animals from their movements and vital signs. This innovation will aid in the cost-effective and safe conservation and management of wildlife and potentially in detecting and preventing disease outbreaks. His patents have also led to a start-up company that’s creating employment in science, engineering and technology.

Professor Marianne Vanderschuren
Engineering Research Capacity Development Award
Special Annual Theme Award: Basic Sciences for Sustainability

Professor Marianne Vanderschuren, from the UCT Department of Civil Engineering, holds the DST-NRF/CSIR Smart Mobility Research Chair, part of the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI). Her research seeks to improve the country’s transportation system for vulnerable road-users. Her career has been dedicated to improving sustainable transport approaches in Africa with a special focus on road traffic, pollution and, more recently, the gender inequity and safety of women. She has given road safety workshops locally and across the continent, in countries like Cameroon, Kenya, Lesotho, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Together with her colleagues, she developed the curriculum and course outlines for the Transport Leadership Program for Africa that will soon be offered by the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana.

Biopharming Research Unit
Innovation Award: Corporate Organisation

The Biopharming Research Unit (BRU), led by Professor Edward Rybicki in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, was established in 2013. Its research themes cover areas related to social well-being, such as agriculture, human health and vaccine production with a special focus on preventing outbreaks of zoonotic diseases. One of its objectives is to produce high-value proteins from plants for use in human and animal vaccine production. They have a notable portfolio of 13 patent families in the international biomedical space. This brings considerable income to the country through licencing and was the basis of the creation of Cape Bio Pharms Ltd. The future of BRU innovation is promising with advancements in vaccines for cervical cancer, HIV, SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses on the horizon.

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