College of Science, Engineering & Technology

Unisan scoops 2017 NRF award

2017 Champion of Research Capacity Development and Transformation at South African HEIs: Diane Hildebrandt is a professor in Chemical Engineering and the Director of the Material and Process Synthesis (MaPS) research unit at Unisa. She heads up a group that researches how to help and improve the quality of lives of the most poorest and vulnerable communities in the country. She is a B1 NRF-rated researcher.

The College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) and the entire Unisa community congratulate Prof Diane Hildebrandt for her special award as 2017 Champion of Research Capacity Development and Transformation at South African Higher Education Institutions at the NRF Awards last night. The event recognises individuals for exceptional contributions towards developing human capacity and knowledge generation in South Africa.

Hildebrandt was cited at the awards as having met the challenge of developing SA’s next generation of researchers and engineers while at the same time exploring new and cleaner methods of making energy accessible to all. She has successfully supervised 49 MSc and 54 PhD students to completion. 54 of whom were black researchers. A number of students have gone on to win awards in their fields, underscoring her commitment to mentoring the next generation of scientists.

“Professor Diane Hildebrandt continues to raise the bar as far as the research agenda is concerned. This NRF award signifies the commitment of Unisa to transforming the science and engineering research front through producing high-calibre postgraduate students who will contribute to various sectors of the country’s economy. For CSET, the award attests to the fact that the vision of becoming a well-recognised college in research and innovation is on track. This award is yet another recognition of one of the top researchers in our college who is highly rated internationally,” said the Executive Dean of CSET, Professor Bhekie Mamba.

Hildebrandt’s colleague, Unisa Professor Extraordinarius David Glasser was also honoured at the awards as one of the 16 South African researchers who obtained A ratings during the recent NRF rating cycle. The retired professor of Chemical Engineering this year received his fourth A1 rating since 1998.

Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor; the CEO of the NRF, Dr Molapo Qhobela; and over 250 guests celebrated research excellence at the 2017 National Research Foundation Awards on 14 September 2017.

Connecting knowledge creation to sustainable development

Seen as the benchmark for research excellence, the 2017 NRF Awards were held under the theme Sustainable development through knowledge creation, which purposely put a spotlight on the role of knowledge creation in supporting and enabling South Africa’s sustainable development as envisaged in the National Development Plan.

In her keynote speech, Minister Pandor spoke of the value of the knowledge enterprise in meeting South Africa’s developmental challenges and sustainable growth. She emphasised the importance of the transformation agenda to the ongoing sustainability of the National System of Innovation, and the important role that a representative cohort of senior researchers has to play in transforming South Africa into a knowledge intensive economy.

Reiterating the importance of connecting knowledge creation to sustainable development, CEO of the NRF and Unisa’s former Vice-Principal of Institutional Development, Dr Molapo Qhobela, said: “The creation of new knowledge and its application are critical in South Africa’s pursuit of sustainable and inclusive development. The recipients of the NRF Awards are leading researchers who, through their work, are helping shape a South Africa that derives enduring benefit from science and technology.”

“The NRF has played a critical role in enabling South Africa’s research environment, driving not only excellent scientific research, but also continuing the transformation of the cohort of researchers. The publication of over 6 800 research articles in peer-reviewed journals; the development of an antibody that neutralises HIV-1; the development of a point-of-care rapid diagnostic test for tuberculosis; support for 14 173 postgraduate students through bursaries and scholarships; the increase in the number of both male and female black NRF-funded researchers from 866 to 970 and female researchers from 1054 to 1176—these are only a few of the successes that have been made possible by the work of the NRF. Through these NRF awards we are celebrating leading researchers whose work has played critical roles in some of these successes and those who are helping us make strides in building a fully inclusive scientific community,” Qhobela concluded.

Currently, there are 3 392 NRF-rated researchers, with the number of black researchers increasing by 70% over the five-year period from 2013-2017 and female researchers by 51% over the same period.

*Compiled by Thembeka Ntuli-Mpapama and Sharon Farrell