College of Science, Engineering & Technology

Research that contributes to solving health-related challenges

Young researchers carry on their shoulders the hopes and dreams of Africa. "On these, our rising stars, we collectively rely on finding African solutions to the questions, concerns, and challenges that stare the continent in the eye," says Prof Puleng LenkaBula, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Unisa. Honoured with the Principal’s Award for Excellence in Research at the 2022 Unisa Research and Innovation Awards Ceremony, the College of Science, Engineering and Technology’s Prof Usisipho Feleni says: "I feel very humbled, excited and altogether very thankful that my modest research contribution and outputs led to being chosen as one of the recipients of this year’s Principal’s Award for Excellence in Research. I am grateful."

Click here for coverage of the 2022 Unisa Research and Innovation Awards Ceremony.

The Principal’s Award for Excellence in Research is one of the two highest accolades for research and innovation awarded at Unisa. This year, the award recognises researchers under 35 and groups of researchers who have published high-quality research in the preceding two years.

Feleni’s field of study is electroanalytical chemistry and materials science, emphasising nanomaterials and quantum dot-materials. Her body of work is focused on electrochemical sensors and biosensors for monitoring water contaminants and biomedical analysis. Explaining some of her research objectives, she says: "One of my research objectives is to contribute to solving health-related challenges, including water pollution by emerging pharmaceutical companies that are highly prescribed in the country, and real-time diagnostics of disease biomarkers.” She adds: “Another objective is to design and produce novel nanomaterials and quantum dot-materials for biosensors and other electrochemical applications, including integrated self-powering sensor systems." Moreover, Feleni aims to produce the next generation of electrochemistry researchers at doctoral and master’s degree levels.

Asked who or what inspired her research, Feleni says that contributing to the science and technology for testing diseases in real-time is what keeps her motivated. She says further: "I am also motivated by the work done in early detection of TB, HIV, cancer, particularly breast cancer, and now Covid-19." In addition, the possibility of drug toxicity and resistivity associated with TB and HIV prevalent in the country is another factor that led to her great interest in biosensors for monitoring drug metabolism and disease biomarkers.

A fitting candidate for the award, Feleni’s other research highlights and achievements in just under six years include publishing over 38 articles on electrochemical sensors in high-impact electroanalytical chemistry journals, including Electroanalysis, Electrocatalysis, Electrochimica Acta and Talanta. "I have also supervised postgraduate students, given several guest lectures and obtained research grants from a number of organisations," she says. Feleni’s other awards, include the University of Michigan African Presidential Scholars, Fellowship 2021/2022, the University of Pretoria-Global Young Academy-Robert Bosch Stiftung GmBH Foundation Africa Science Leadership Programme, Fellowship 2021, the South African Department of Science and Innovation TATA Women in Science, Engineering and Technology Award 2016 and the L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science Doctoral Fellowship Awards 2016.

* By Tshimangadzo Mphaphuli, Acting Editor, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2022-06-09 00:00:00.0