UCT researchers shortlisted for prestigious Newton Prize 2020

16 September 2020 | Story Staff writer. Photo UCT. Read time 5 min.

Two University of Cape Town (UCT) researchers have been selected as finalists for the esteemed Newton Prize 2020.

The Newton Prize recognises outstanding research and international research partnerships that address challenges in developing countries and around the world, such as providing access to clean and affordable energy, HIV/AIDS prevention, the protection of historical sites and how to tackle water pollution.


“A focus on indigenous language development in the early years will lead to better overall academic performance and life outcomes for South Africa’s children.”

The two shortlisted research partnerships fall within the collaboration categories, United Kingdom (UK)-South Africa (SA) country prize and the prestigious Chair’s Prize.

UK-South Africa

A UK-SA team, led by UCT’s Professor Heather Brookes and Lancaster University’s Dr Katherine Alcock, is working towards obtaining norms for early language development in all of South Africa’s eleven official languages. The research is an expanding national effort currently working with language teams from Stellenbosch, North West and Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences universities and the South African Centre for Digital Language Resources.

The project, Training and knowledge exchange in early African language development assessment, is partnered with the British Academy and South Africa’s National Research Foundation for delivery. It is an initiative of the Child Language Africa Research Unit in the Division of Communication Sciences and Disorders at UCT.

“The team is also working towards developing assessments and interventions in African languages and making these accessible on a sustainable basis using innovative digital solutions appropriate for African settings,” says Brookes. “A focus on indigenous language development in the early years will lead to better overall academic performance and life outcomes for South Africa’s children.


“Safe and stable electricity through solar minigrids contributes in a significant way to providing adequate and safe housing.”

“For the first time, we will have representative data on typical language in development in early childhood in South Africa. This work is also contributing to increasing the number of African language-speaking speech-language therapists and strengthening research expertise in language development in African languages.”

Chair’s Prize

Shortlisted for the prestigious Chair’s Prize is the project, Urban transformation in South Africa through co-designing energy services provision pathways, a collaboration led by UCT’s Dr Jiska de Groot and the University of Exeter’s Dr Federico Caprotti.

The project focuses on boosting productivity and employment in informal settlements with off-grid, safe and stable renewable energy, and is being conducted with local delivery partner Zonke Energy, the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council and South Africa’s National Research Foundation.

“Safe and stable electricity through solar minigrids contributes in a significant way to providing adequate and safe housing,” says de Groot. “This is because solar microgrid-delivered electricity enables the provision of safe lighting and safe electricity connections, which avoids the need to have illegal, unsafe electricity connections to the national grid. It also avoids the need to burn candles or other combustible materials for indoor lighting, reducing fire risk not just for the household but for the wider, usually densely populated informal settlements.”

Meanwhile, refrigeration, which is taken for granted in much of the world, is non-existent in many informal settlements worldwide. “As a service, refrigeration can provide health, wellbeing, economic, and livelihood benefits,” say de Groot. “Enabling solar refrigeration businesses run by female entrepreneurs and powered through solar microgrids enables basic service provision within the community, by the community (in part), and without the need to rely on, or wait for, formal grid connection.”

Worth up to £500 000, the Chair’s Prize will be awarded to the project that can demonstrate impact in one of three specific United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals: Good Health & Wellbeing, Gender Equality, or Sustainable Cities and Communities.

The shortlisted projects have been peer reviewed and will be judged by a panel of independent experts comprising the Newton Prize Committee. The winning projects in each category will be announced in November 2020.

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