How South Africa’s botanical diversity is conserved in the context of global climate change and biological invasions is likely to require customised approaches for different plant groups.

This was one of the findings of a groundbreaking Masters thesis earned summa cum laude by Environmental Science student Ms Nikara Mahadeo at a recent graduation ceremony of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science.

Mahadeo’s dissertation investigated the relationship between the length of flowering periods and the distribution ranges of plant species in eastern South Africa. She was supervised by two recognised researchers in the field of biogeography, Professor S Proches and Dr S Ramdhani.

Several horticultural popular plant groups such as red hot pokers and arum lilies were included in the study. Mahadeo found that in four cases there was a significant correlation between flowering and distribution ranges which led to the conclusion that both range size and the length of the flowering season are the result of numerous factors acting jointly, which differ across plant groups.

Her work is important in the context of climate change and biological invasions, two factors that are predicted to have dramatic impacts on South Africa’s botanical diversity. Her study suggests that the conservation of plant diversity in the face of global change will have to consider the complexity of flowering patterns, and it is likely that customised approaches will be necessary for different plant groups.

Mahadeo received a University of KwaZulu-Natal Postgraduate Scholarship, NRF Scarce Skills Scholarship and the Erasmus Mundus Sapient Scholarship. Mahadeo said she was fortunate to undertake the six-month Erasmus Mundus Masters Exchange Scholarship at Radboud University in The Netherlands.

On her achievement, she said: ‘I can attribute my success in completing the degree to hard work and perseverance. My supervisors have encouraged me to publish my research work through journals and conferences which I am eager to pursue,’ she said.

Dr Ramdhani described Mahadeo’s study as a “first for South Africa”: ‘The effects of the length of flowering periods on the distribution range size of species are poorly investigated, and Ms Mahadeo’s study was a first for South Africa. She managed to complete her study in the minimum prescribed time despite spending six months in the Netherlands,’ Ramdhani said.

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Ms Rashmika Singh graduated summa cum laude with her BSc Honours in Statistics, along the way receiving six Certificates of Merits from her seven modules and the highest mark for her Honours project. Her dissertation titled “Modeling Survival Data with an Application to Criminal Recidivism”, was supervised by Mr Jordache Ramjith.

The project considered two primary methods of analysis, which were the Kaplan-Meier method and the Cox Proportional Hazards method. Singh’s project was subsequently entered into the annual South African Statistics Association (SASA) National Project competition, the results of which are expected to be released in June 2013. From 2008 to 2012 she was funded by Investec Bank and in addition received funding from the National Research Foundation.

According to Ramjith, Singh is a hardworking and disciplined student. ‘She shows extreme dedication and passion towards any project that she undertakes,’ he said.

This year Singh is pursuing her Masters in Statistics in the area of Survival Analysis with particular application to HIV, jointly supervised by Ramjith and Professor Glenda Matthews. 

Singh said she relocated to Durban in 2008 to pursue her studies. ‘The journey has not always been easy, living alone, away from home and studying, but through it I have gained independence and a greater sense of what I can achieve. Only hard work, dedication and support helped me to achieve the successful completion of my Honours degree,’ she said.

Singh described the 2012 year as ‘one of the most fulfilling years of my academic journey thus far’.

‘I would like to acknowledge my parents, family, friends, sponsors and everybody in the Statistics Department for their assistance, support and encouragement,’ she said.

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Dr Wayne Nelson, a Chemical Engineering student who received his PhD this April, will certainly have the attention of the energy industry’s research and development divisions. His research investigated a separation process that will make it easier to obtain a product needed to produce a high-grade trichlorosilane.

Nelson, who completed his undergraduate and Masters degrees at UKZN, said that globally environmentally friendly and socially acceptable energy supplying alternatives are becoming increasingly valuable. In terms of South Africa’s future energy mix, nuclear energy and renewable energy are being identified to play more prominent roles. With this in mind, a consortium consisting of Necsa (South African Nuclear Energy Corporation), Thermtron Holdings, Pelchem (Pelindaba Chemicals) and Setsolar has proposed to develop a novel process to produce cost-competitive, high-purity and high-value chemical products for niche markets in the solar, semiconductor and nuclear industry of South Africa. Nelson’s research focused on the production of polysilicone for this process.

Nelson is currently working as an Academic and esearcher with the Thermodynamics Research Unit at UKZN’s School of Engineering.

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The parents of Kerryn and Lynsey Houston had double cause to celebrate as both their daughters were awarded top-class degrees by UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science on 17 April.  Whilst Lynsey was awarded her BSc in Geological Sciences summa cum laude, Kerryn received her MSc in Biology cum laude.

Kerryn’s Masters dissertation was titled “Epigenetic Silencing of the Glucocorticoid Receptor in Small Cell Lung Cancer Cells”.

‘Kerryn produced an excellent thesis on the epigenetic profile of small cell lung cancer cells and is now embarking on a PhD to identify whether similar epigenetic marks are found in patients diagnosed with this deadly disease,’ said her supervisor, Dr Paula Sommer of UKZN’s School of Life Sciences on the Westville campus.

‘It was a great honour and accomplishment to graduate with my MSc, and qualify to do my doctorate,’ said Kerryn.  ‘It was especially gratifying that my hard work was recognised and awarded cum laude.’

Lynsey was equally pleased with her results.  ‘It was a really nice surprise to find out that I graduated summa cum laude, and it’s a great feeling to know that all my hard work paid off in the end,’ she said.

 Lynsey has a bursary with AngloGold Ashanti, so at the beginning of next year she will be moving up to North-West Province to work at one of their mines for the next few years.  During 2013, she will be pursuing an Honours degree in Geological Sciences.

‘We are indeed very proud and grateful parents. Our daughters have both been blessed with good brains and they work really hard.  Their results speak for themselves,’ said their father, Ian Houston.

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Kulo nyaka, umnyango wezokuhlola ezomhlaba phecelezi-Land Surveying e-UKZN, ugubhe ngokokuqala  ukwethweswa kweziqu komfundi obenza iziqu ze-Masters lokhu kwagcina ngo-2006.

UMnu Kaveer Singh uphothule iziqu zakhe ze-Masters kwi-Land Surveying e-UKZN, ngonyaka odlule.   Ucwaningo lwakhe belibheke  libuka izilima eziyizihlahla ezingokufika eziwuhlobo lwesikhomane –fern, ku-Khahlamba Drakensburg Park World Heritage  site

Oka-Singh uthe, uyakholwa ukuthi lomsbenzi uzogqugquzela nabany’abafundi ukuthi balandele kulo mkhakha. Ukhulume ngokubaluleka kanye neqhaza lo mkhakha ongahlinzeka ngawo izisombululo kumhlaba onezinkinga.  USingh ube nokuzithoba okukhulu ngesikhathi ekhuluma ngempumelelo yakhe. Ebeka nokuthi lokhu kuseyisiqalo nje, futhi uyafisa ukubona ucwaningo olufuze lolu ludlondlobala kulo mkhakha, ukuze kuthuthukiswe phambili amasu kanye namacebo okusebenza ahlanganisa ezemvelo.

Useqale ukusebenza eHhovisi le-Surveyor General eMgungundlovu, okaSingh uyakholwa ukuthi uzoqhubekela phambili nocwaningo lwakhe aze afinyelele kwi ziqu zobudokotela  aze adlondlobale abe umcwaningi wengomuso.

UDkt Mulemwa Akombelwa, inhloko yomnyango we-Land Surveying e-UKZN, kwiSikole sobuNjiniyela, uthe, impumelelo kaSingh ithathe igxathu elibalulekile kakhulu, futhi uyathemba ukuthi kuleminyaka ezayo lo mnyango uzoba nekusasa eliqhakazile. Uncome oka-Singh wamhalalisela kakhulu ngempumelelo yakhe. 

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Mechanical Engineering graduate Theo Govender has been recognised by the Engineering Council of South Africa by being chosen to receive the prestigious ECSA Medal.

When Govender began his studies at UKZN, he was already a high achieving learner. Having completed high school at Kharwastan Secondary in Chatsworth, where he matriculated as one of the school’s top 15 achievers, Govender pursued his dream of becoming a Mechanical Engineer by enrolling for his degree at UKZN.

During the course of his studies, he always strove to give his best. His dedication and focus have been recognised by the Discipline. Professor Glen Bright, Head of Mechanical Engineering, described Govender as a conscientious student who did his best to achieve excellent results. He said that the Discipline of Mechanical Engineering congratulated him and wished him every success in his chosen career.

Govender will now turn his attention to his new job as a researcher at Transnet for their mechanical systems. His advice to fellow students is to keep the effort up from day one. He reminded prospective students that there is a great difference between high school and university, and the effort and dedication put in would determine the level of achievement.

Govender is to receive the medal from ECSA at the annual School of Engineering Awards Evening and Banquet later this year.

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Is King Shaka International Airport (KISA) an engine of economic growth or a neoliberal project serving to benefit a select, affluent minority? This highly topical question earned Ms Meghan Crosby a Master of Science degree (Geography and Environmental Management) cum laude.

Crosby’s dissertation titled, “Airports as engines of growth? A critical evaluation of the King Shaka International Airport and Aerotropolis”, , looked at air travel as the fastest growing means of transportation which is one of the primary contributors to the globalisation of cities.

Her study, which she completed in the space of a year, focused on the newly opened King Shaka International Airport (KSIA) situated near Durban which was planned and designed to be the centre of Africa’s first purpose-built aerotropolis (airport-centred city).

While the development of KSIA is expected to promote economic growth in the area north of Durban and subsequently promote the city as a primary South African destination, Crosby’s study found that airport-centred development is elitist, especially in developing countries like South Africa with high levels of inequality and that the KSIA aerotropolis is a neoliberal project serving to benefit a select, affluent minority. It is also suggested that due to high levels of aviation competition, the distance between the airport and the city, and the low level of demand in Durban, the huge concentration of public funds into this project may not have been justifiable.

Crosby was supervised by Professor Brij Maharaj, a B-rated National Research Foundation (NRF) researcher who has received widespread recognition for his research on urban politics, segregation, local economic development, migration and diasporas, religion and development.

Maharaj described Crosby as ‘an outstanding and distinguished student who continues to grow, mature and excel in all her academic activities, inside and outside the University. She always aims to give of her best, and will settle for nothing less. She has an impressive academic record and is especially passionate about environmental issues. She has excelled academically in the lecture hall, but has also demonstrated an ability to go beyond the ivory tower, engaging in community outreach programmes at several levels.’

Crosby presented a paper at the International Conference on Development-Induced Displacement at the University of Oxford and will be presenting a paper at the International IGU Urban Conference in July 2013.

Crosby said she is working on two papers that will be sent to international journals for publication. ‘I was extremely dedicated and passionate about successfully completing the Masters degree. This would not have been possible without the dedication of my supervisor and his extensive knowledge in the field of urban development. Professor Maharaj inspired me to grow my own intellectual thought and has always motivated me to achieve my goals,’ she said.

Crosby is currently assisting with some part-time lecturing and is in the process of registering for her PhD at UKZN.  ‘I want to thank the NRF for funding my studies. On a personal note, I am happy after my engagement and looking forward to a bright future, both at a personal and professional level’, she said.

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Nigeria-based public health specialist Dr Uche Amazigo has received an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in acknowledgement of her work on Onchocerciasis (River blindness), a disease that affects millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa.

River blindness is a disease transmitted by small black flies that live near fast-flowing rivers in fertile farm lands in 30 countries of sub-Saharan Africa. ‘In the early1990s, 120 million Africans were at risk, with 37 million infected and 1.5 million blinded or visually impaired,’ Amazigo said.

Addressing graduates, parents, University staff and other distinguished guests, Amazigo explained the challenges of tackling the disease. ‘For centuries our people believed that certain bewitched rivers eat the eyes. Hundreds of villages bordering fertile agricultural land were consequently abandoned, many preferring to protect their eyesight. Prospects for overcoming river blindness were bleak,’ she said. The disease brought immeasurable personal harm as well as socioeconomic damage throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Amazigo said it was a "distinct honour and privilege" to talk about something to which she was extremely dedicated, namely, the need to identify - and exploit to the fullest - multisectoral solutions to improve the health of all sectors of society, in particular, the health of populations, those, for whatever reasons, are ignored by, or underserved by national health services. ‘When the poor in our sub-region are underserved because of unfair distribution of health system structures, human rights are violated by governments,’ she said.

Amazigo’s innovative research on the disease formed the basis for the UN/World Bank-administered African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC). In addition, she successfully co-ordinated and implemented the World Health Organisation’s African programme for river blindness control. Based on community-directed treatment with ivermectin (CDTI), the programme allowed for community participation in one of the largest control programmes undertaken for a single disease.

‘In our sub-region, health systems need good and effective delivery systems in which the end users are inclusively engaged; and engaged in determining as well as operating those systems. That is the fundamental basis for the success of the river blindness control programmes. Today, there is evidence of elimination of river blindness, made possible because of community involvement and the keeping of reliable treatment records.’

Amazigo said often at great cost, Africa had taught us that a "quick fix" imposed from outside does not work and usually represents a wasted investment. ‘Even where it seems to work, it simply does not strengthen any community health system in a cost-effective or sustainable manner. The community-directed system engages the poor as partners and not passive recipients, and builds sustainable infrastructure for long-term delivery of services. This viable strategy can be adapted to improve all health delivery services in sub-Saharan Africa. This is what Africa still desperately needs.’

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This year’s Graduation was particularly special for several undergraduate and postgraduate students in the School of Engineering who received their degrees summa cum laude.

Among the undergraduate students are Adhikar Hariram and Charles Raaf, whose final-year project, the Apalis Solar Car, received significant media and academic attention as well as praise for its achievements in the SASOL Solar Challenge.

Theo Govender, the top student in the School and the recipient of the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) Medal, had extra reason to celebrate when he graduated this week. Rounding up the Mechanical Engineering quartet is Ashmeer Sukdeo, who was part of a team that created a rally car simulator as his final-year project.

Lastly, Julien Maharaj from Chemical Engineering also received his degree with the “highest honour”. Maharaj holds the dual honour of being the top Chemical Engineering student for 2012. The postgraduate students receiving their degrees with distinction include Masters students Alan Foster and Bhekisizwe Mthethwa.

Professor Glen Bright, academic leader of Mechanical Engineering, said the achievements were reflective not only of the students’ hard work, but also the calibre, commitment and excellence of the academics and programmes at the School.

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Dr Corrie Schoeman was the recipient of a University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Distinguished Teachers’ Award at a Graduation ceremony held recently on the Westville campus. The annual award acknowledges excellence and innovation in teaching, and is managed by the University Teaching and Learning Office (UTLO).

Schoeman, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Life Sciences in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, was recognised for his innovative approach to teaching.

The selection committee was unanimous that the award should be given to Schoeman who is acknowledged for the additional support he provides to his students, reaching out to under-prepared students from disadvantaged backgrounds to ensure they succeed in their studies.

According to Professor Renuka Vithal, DVC: Teaching and Learning, Professor Schoeman was recognised for using a broad selection of teaching methods and a wide variety of multimedia in a range of modules at different levels. He supports his teaching through diverse tuition and learning material which have been developed to enact his teaching strategies and emanate from his philosophy of teaching.

The distinguished teachers are not only outstanding practitioners, but are also recognised for their scholarship and contribution to research.

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Mathematics Professor, Jacek Banasiak, was honoured with a UKZN Fellowship at this year’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science’s Graduation ceremony. 

University Fellowships are conferred annually on outstanding academics for research excellence and distinguished academic achievement. Banasiak is one of four academics to receive the title of UKZN Fellow this year.

Banasiak joined the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at the University in 1992, moving through the ranks to become a Senior Professor in 2008 and Research Professor in 2011. He was the Head of the School of Mathematical Sciences between 2005 and 2007.

His research interests are in non-local, integro-differential models of applied sciences, including kinetic theory, mathematical biology and fragmentation-coagulation theory and also asymptotic analysis of multiple scales problems for which he received the habilitation (DSc) conferred by the University of Warsaw in 1999 and the state title of Professor conferred by the President of the Republic of Poland in 2007.

Banasiak has been a National Research Foundation B1 scientist since 2008 and in 2012 received the South African Mathematical Society Award for Research Distinction.

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School of Engineering student Mr Bhekisizwe Mthethwa, who started his MSc in 2011, has completed his degree summa cum laude and has also had two papers based on his research published in respected international journals.

Dr Leigh Jarvis, Academic Leader of Research in the School of Engineering, described Mthethwa as a role model for other students. Mthethwa, who was supervised by Professor Hongjun Xu, has consistently been a high performer. During his undergraduate degree in electronic engineering, he received 28 Certificates of Merit, six Deans’ Commendations and won awards for being the best electronic engineering student in his second, third and fourth years. In addition, his final-year project received a “highly commended” award.   

His academic performance caught the attention of industry and Mthethwa was awarded a full bursary for his undergraduate studies. A consequence of this was that after completing his undergraduate degree he worked at an engineering consulting firm in Johannesburg for three years, gaining invaluable experience in the mining, infrastructure and energy industries.

However, Mthethwa said his goal has always been to complete his MSc at UKZN. His research focused on improving data rates in a low complexity MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) wireless scheme and statistically deriving the bit error rate performance of this wireless scheme in an urban environment. He hopes his research will lead to faster streaming of videos on cell phones and other mobile devices.

Mthethwa, who acknowledged the guidance of Xu throughout his studies, said he plans to complete his doctoral studies at UKZN on a part-time basis.


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Kenyan Mathematics Lecturer Mrs Lucy Chikamai left her husband and four children at home in 2008 to come to UKZN to pursue her doctoral degree in Pure Mathematics. Five years later, she was able to celebrate not only her own graduation, but that of her son Keith, who received his Masters degree in Computer Science from UKZN.

Chikamai’s doctoral thesis, "Linear codes obtained from modular representations of some simple finite groups", was rated highly by its reviewers and has already produced four original articles, one of which has appeared in a peer-reviewed international journal. Another has been accepted for publication and the remainder are under review. Chikamai has also presented her PhD results at the congresses of the South African Mathematical Society and locally at the KwaZulu-Natal Mathematics Conference.

Her thesis presented a unified view of the interplay between the areas of modular representation theory, algebraic coding theory and combinatorial design theory, producing results of great generality and applicable to information theory.

According to her co-supervisor, Professor Bernardo Rodrigues, Chikamai showed "great talent" working with the computational algebra systems GAP and Magma, producing in many instances computational routines which helped describe the properties of the linear codes that her thesis consists of. ‘She has become an expert in using those systems with proficiency,’ he said.

Studying far away from family was difficult for Chikamai, particularly given the fact that she lost her 23-year-old daughter and her mother-in-law during her study sojourn in South Africa. ‘The loss of my daughter was one of the biggest challenges but with the grace of God, I managed to complete my studies,’ she said.

Such personal tragedy meant that Chikamai’s PhD took longer than the three years originally anticipated.

‘At the end of each year, I would go back home for three months, particularly for the well-being of my family,’ she said. ‘In August 2009, my son Keith Chikamai joined me to undertake his Master in Science degree in Computer Science. He completed his studies early 2012.’

Currently, Chikamai is back in Kenya where she has resumed her teaching job at the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology. Despite the tragedies suffered in her family she has remained true to Mathematics and is determined to conquer her goals. According to her co-supervisor Professor Jamshid Moori, she has shown great devotion towards her family and the subject of her choice: Mathematics. ‘I highly admire her devotion,’ said Moori.

Chikamai is highly appreciative of the support received from her supervisors, ‘It was great working with such high standing respected men in the subject and I count it an honour to have contributed to their grey hairs. You learn more than just the subject.’

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Graduating cum laude with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Statistics has a special significance for Ms Philile Mlotshwa whose matric points, and particularly her Mathematics result, were deemed inadequate to secure her a place in a Bachelor of Commerce degree programme in 2008.

Despite having passed matric at Howick Secondary School with merit and obtaining a distinction in Standard Grade Mathematics, Mlotshwa was forced, as an alternative, to register for a Bachelor of Social Science degree on the Pietermaritzburg campus.

However, refusing to give up on her ambitions, and concerned about the stiff competition for employment opportunities in the social science sector, Mlotshwa applied in the second semester to transfer to the BSc programme. Even though she still did not have sufficient points to be admitted, the incumbent Dean, Professor Deo Jaganyi, was impressed by Mlotshwa’s Mathematics marks and overall progress.

So in 2009, she was provisionally allowed to undertake her BSc degree. Not only did she manage to pass all her modules at first attempt, in 2010, she was awarded the Victor Daitz Bursary for achieving excellent academic results.  In 2011 she obtained the GI Bateman Memorial Book Prize for being the top third-year level Mathematics student. Mlotshwa completed her BSc Mathematics and Statistics in record time and received 10 Certificates of Merits and two Deans’ Commendations for her studies.

In 2012 she enrolled for a BSc (Honours) in Statistics at UKZN-Westville campus. Mlotshwa said she anticipated a drop in her academic performance owing to the relocation away from home, but this was not to be. ‘Fortunately, I was greeted by the most warm and welcoming staff of the Actuarial Science and Statistics Department on the Westville campus. Most importantly my gratitude is extended to my Honours supervisor, Mr Jordache Ramjith, who continued to encourage me to work hard,’ she said.

Mlotshwa is presently enrolled for her Master of Science (MSc) degree in Statistics with a research topic titled “Competing Risks and Multi-state Survival Analysis with an Application to HIV”. She is supervised by Ramjith and co-supervised by Professor Glenda Matthews. She has received funding from the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis and as well as a University of KwaZulu-Natal scholarship.

According to Ramjith, Mlotshwa is hardworking, jovial and has a very bubbly personality. ‘She is pleasant to be around and always executes her tasks well. It gives me great pleasure to be able to continue supervising Ms Mlotshwa for her Masters degree,’ he said.

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After 30 years of lecturing in the field of Mathematics, Dr Jane Morgan from the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science completed her doctoral studies last year in the Discipline of Mathematics.

She said her expert supervisors Professor Henda Swart and Dr Simon Mukwembi understood that although she had years of mathematical experience, she needed their guidance on research, publications and the administrative support pertaining to post-graduate work. ‘I am 57 years old now, and my sons are presently finishing off their own university degrees at the University of Cape Town (after obtaining an Honours degree from UKZN), and at UKZN,’ she said.

The title of Morgan’s thesis was “Bounds on distance-based topological indices in graphs”. The research explored an application of Graph Theory to Chemistry.  This topic of active research is of great value to various parts of the chemical industry, especially in pharmaceutical studies for designing new drugs. The physical, chemical, biological and even toxicological properties as well as the pharmaceutical effectiveness of certain not-yet-synthesised chemicals can be predicted from the topological indices of the graphs modelling their molecules, thereby reducing the need for expensive experimentation. Morgan considered several distance-based topological indices, such as the Wiener Index, Eccentric Connectivity Index, and Degree Distance, and she found bounds on their values in terms of several graph theoretical parameters.

During the course of her PhD studies, Morgan attended several national and international conferences such as the British Combinatorial Conference, numerous congresses of the South African Mathematical Society. She was also invited to lecture at the University of Zimbabwe.

Morgan was funded by the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science and both her supervisors who contributed financially from their own research grants towards her research.

Morgan, who has lectured in both Engineering and Mathematics departments since 1982, said she was very appreciative of the opportunity to finally get her PhD. ‘My supervisors were extremely supportive,’ she said.

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Dr Abdul Mirza, one of the central figures behind the success of the FIFA World Cup communications system, has received his “well-deserved” PhD degree in Physics from UKZN.

Mirza’s dissertation focused on quantum cryptography in an optical fibre network and investigated the practical implementation of emerging quantum technologies. In particular, he realised quantum communication networks for physically secure communication.

Mirza was supervised by Professor Francesco Petruccione who is the Director of UKZN’s Centre for Quantum Technology and holds the South African Research Chair in Quantum Information Processing and Communication.

Petruccione described Mirza’s PhD as “well-deserved”.

‘Mirza was the central figure behind the success of the FIFA World Cup communications.  His projects put UKZN on the global map of quantum communication,’ said Petruccione. 

Mirza’s quantum communication projects included the QuantumCity Project and the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup Quantum Stadium project.  These projects involved state-of-the-art quantum computing and quantum technology and ensured encrypted communication security around the World Cup and the Moses Mabhida Stadium.

Explaining the importance of quantum physics and quantum technology in today’s world, Petruccione said:  ‘The miniaturisation of technological devices necessitates the manipulation of objects at the nanoscale, at which coherent quantum mechanical processes start to dominate the physical properties.’

Pettrucione said the “unavoidable interaction” of these systems with their environment gives rise to ‘dissipative mechanisms and a strong loss of quantum coherence’ – in other words, decoherence. ‘Since perfect isolation of quantum systems is not possible, it is of central importance to incorporate the methods and tools of the theory of quantum systems in the exploration of quantum technologies,’ he said.

Under Petruccione, UKZN’s Centre for Quantum Technology has contributed to the development of the theory of open quantum systems, which is the basis of recent quantum information technological applications.

One spin-off of Mirza’s research has been the establishment of a company, with the support of Petruccione and UKZN, which focuses on the commercialisation of research at the Centre for Quantum Technology. Currently its commercial activities focus on quantum and classical encryption.

For Mirza, the PhD opens a new chapter. ‘My PhD is the culmination of 22 years of studying,’ he said. ‘I believe that every person involved in this journey played a role in this achievement. For me, this PhD marks a new beginning and a new set of challenges to overcome.’

Mirza said he hopes to continue his post-doctoral career at UKZN while also strengthening the University’s commitment to entrepreneurship.

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Two tutors in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science’s Academic Access Programme have cause to celebrate. Not only have they supported countless students though their Chemistry Foundation courses, thus enabling them to further their studies towards a BSc degree, but the two staff members have also found the time to further their own academic studies.  

Rachel Oosthuizen and Roshila Moodley, both of whom are based in the School of Chemistry and Physics, reaped the rewards of their hard work when they graduated with an MSc and a PhD degree respectively.

‘Both ladies were full-time tutors whilst they pursued their studies within the School,’ said Senior Lecturer in Chemistry, Dr Vincent Nyamori.  ‘It is not easy to do research when one is not only working full-time but also married and not the youngest in the lab,’ he said.  Nyamori said the two women received outstanding results, with Oosthuizen receiving her MSc cum laude.

Oosthuizen’s thesis, which focused on structural chemistry and nanotechnology, was titled, “The Influence of Physicochemical Reaction Parameters on the Synthesis of Multi-Walled Carbon Nanotubes for use as Catalyst Supports.”  Her supervisors were Nyamori and Dr Catherine Ngila. 

Nyamori described nanotechnology as a “revolutionary research area”. 

‘The history of mankind has been broadly categorised and defined by major scientific advances; from the beginnings of steel forging with its influence on agriculture and society in the Iron Age, through to the electronic and information age of the mid to late 1900s, which is still pervading our entire society, and finally to the nanotechnology age of the present.’ 

Oosthuizen showed academic promise from a young age. She was the Dux of her primary school and went on to receive straight A’s for matric and was placed in the top 30 in the province. She received her undergraduate degree cum laude, notching up several Certificates of Merit and Dean’s Commendations along the way.  Since 2007 to early 2013, she was employed as a tutor in the Centre for Science Access and at times worked as the Module Co-ordinator for the Science Foundation Chemistry Programme. 

Her colleague Moodley has been a tutor since 2002 and in 2009 was promoted to Senior Tutor in the Science Access Programme.  Since graduating with her MSc cum laude in 2007, she has been working steadily towards her PhD.  This year, she was promoted to Lecturer.

Moodley’s PhD thesis in the field of Analytical/Natural Product Chemistry was titled “Phytochemical and Analytical Studies on Two Indigenous Medicinal Plants Found in KwaZulu-Natal: Carissa macrocarpa and Harpephyllum caffrum”.  Her supervisors were Professor Sreekantha Jonnalagadda and Dr Neil Koorbanally.

Explaining the essence of Moodley’s thesis, Koorbanally said:  ‘Roshila conducted a comprehensive study on the fruits of two indigenous edible plant species, assessing the medicinal and nutritional properties and their potential as nutraceuticals.’  Both fruits proved to be rich in anti-oxidant and immune-boosting compounds, providing a basis to include them in the diets of children in the rural areas, where access to nutritional supplements is limited.

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Karen Pillay (née Muthusamy), a Lecturer in UKZN’s School of Life Sciences, has an impeccable academic record.  Leaving high school armed with a full suite of subject distinctions, Karen went on to complete her BSc degree in Biomedical Science cum laude and her BSc Honours degree summa cum laude. On 17 April Pillay graduated with a PhD degree in Biochemistry from UKZN. 

Pillay’s doctoral research lies in amyloid diseases, in particular, type II (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes. Her dissertation topic was the ‘Synthesis and Aggregation Dynamics of Amylin’. Pillay was supervised by Dr Patrick Govender.

Pillay’s decision to pursue her MSc and PhD in the fields of Chemistry and Biochemistry, moving away from her background in Biomedical Science and Medical Microbiology, highlights her versatility in scientific research. In 2011 Pillay was one of six UKZN women to scoop a prestigious ‘Women in Science’ Award from the national Department of Science and Technology.  She was awarded a doctoral fellowship for her outstanding contribution to the scientific knowledge base of her discipline.

Pillay grew up in Chatsworth. Her high school years were spent at Westcliff Secondary, where she emerged as Dux of the school.

‘My parents, Siva and Theresa, played an integral role in encouraging me to reach for the stars,’ said Pillay. ‘They never pressured me to go into any particular field and were always supportive of anything that I chose to do.’

In 2009, Pillay married Keagan, an IT specialist. ‘I met him just before going to Sweden as part of my MSc and I needed a laptop,’ she said.  ‘My cousin put me in touch with him for advice and, as they say, the rest is history!  He has been extremely supportive and keeps me motivated to be the best that I can be.’

Pillay said she received expert guidance from her research group supervisors during her PhD research. ‘Without their expertise, I would not be where I am today,’ she said. ‘Dr Patrick Govender has always inspired me to persevere and make a success of whatever I set out to do. He is also my mentor for the Leadership and Equity Advancement Programme and has been instrumental in helping me adjust to life in academia.’

Pillay said she stumbled upon Biochemistry when her MSc project required biological testing of the compounds she had synthesised. ‘My eyes were opened to how vital Biochemistry is. Without Biochemistry, even the most basic of our functions would not be possible - that’s what grabs me,’ she said.

Pillay explained that type II diabetes mellitus, the subject of her research, affects more than 154 million people in South Africa alone. The numbers are rising as obesity, stress and poor eating habits take their toll. Currently there is no therapeutic agent that can slow down or stop the progression of type II diabetes.

‘Amyloid diseases are characterised by a particular peptide/protein called amylin in the case of type II diabetes, which has a propensity to aggregate and become toxic to pancreatic beta cells,’ said Pillay. Her research examined peptide-based inhibitors of the aggregation process and cytotoxicity.

‘As there is currently no gold standard technique for testing potential inhibitors, another aspect of my research involved looking at surface plasmon resonance and NanoSight technology as potential screening techniques,’ she said. ‘In addition, there are some gaps in understanding the mechanistics of the cellular interaction of amylin. My research shed light on this using confocal microscopy and live cell imaging.’

Pillay said since the latter years of her schooling, she was interested in drug development. ‘To play even a small role in finding a treatment that could be used for the well-being of people has always been a very intriguing aspect for me,’ she said.  ‘I know many people with type II diabetes and the fact that my dad was diagnosed with a mild case of it, motivates me even more to contribute to the fight against this disease.’

‘As my peptide-based inhibitors and novel screening techniques would bring us a step closer to finding an agent that could delay or even stop amylin aggregation, and as progression of type II diabetes leads to numerous secondary complications such as blindness, heart attacks, strokes and renal failure, an agent that could stop progression of the disease would have far-reaching consequences.’

Pillay enjoys being an Academic and a Lecturer. ‘I hope to be able to make a significant impact on young minds. I would like to stay at UKZN as this Institution has a reputation for its brilliant research and has the necessary resources available.  And I love Durban.’

Now that her PhD is complete, Pillay can afford to take some time out to relax with family and friends.



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Ms Jacqueline Raw’s novel approaches to her Biology research project and an exceptionally smart experimental design have earned her a Bachelor of Science Honours degree summa cum laude, a prestigious Innovation Scholarship from the National Research Foundation and a best presentation award.

The Honours programme consisted of five coursework modules and one research project module. The coursework covered a range of concepts and skills required in marine science, while Raw’s research component consisted of an ecological study on an invasive gastropod mollusc in the St Lucia Estuary in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s first United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural (UNESCO) World Heritage site.

The project, which ran over a year, included experiments performed in the laboratory and in the field. Raw’s project, "Chemical Cues Released by an Alien Invasive Aquatic Gastropod Drive its Invasion Success", used an experimental approach to measure behavioural responses of native gastropods to the presence of chemical cues released by the invasive species.

The results of the project were presented at the South African Society of Aquatic Sciences Conference held in Cape St Francis and the Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal (EKZN) Wildlife Symposium. The project also won the Premier of KwaZulu-Natal’s Award for the Best Conservation Science Student Presentation at the 2012 Symposium on Contemporary Conservation Practice in Howick organised by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and sponsored by The Wildlands Conservation Trust.

Renzo Perissinotto, who supervised Raw’s work, said the project earned Raw an “exceptional mark” in the Honours programme. ‘Using novel approaches and an exceptionally smart experimental design, Ms Raw was able to provide evidence for interactions driven by chemical cues between a non-native invasive gastropod and several gastropods native to South Africa,’ he said.

Raw is currently registered for a Master of Science degree on the Westville campus in the School of Life Sciences. According to Perissinotto, her continuation of the study undertaken for the Honours degree has led to a manuscript being accepted in the prestigious open access journal PLoS ONE.

Raw said she was passionate about research and intends to make it her career. She also had high praise for her academic supervisors. ‘I have had continuous support and encouragement from both my supervisors through the challenges of the academic programme and the duration of the project. The quality of the final thesis and the paper currently in press is a direct product of their commitment and acceptance of only my best efforts,’ she said.

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Dr Narushan Pillay has completed his PhD in Electronic Engineering in record time.

An academic in Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering at UKZN’s School of Engineering since 2009, Pillay took only two-and-a-half years to complete his research. Previously, he served as a design engineer in industry and project co-ordinator for the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research.

Professor Hongjun Xu, Pillay’s supervisor, was full of praise for Pillay’s outstanding effort, indicating that to have completed the degree in such a short space of time was no mean feat for a part-time student. Pillay’s research was based on a new paradigm in wireless communications called cognitive radio (CR), which allows for unlicensed opportunistic usage of frequency spectrum. 

In addition, he has published three international papers based on his research. Pillay has a long history at UKZN, beginning with undergraduate and Masters studies. He received his Masters degree cum laude. Pillay’s future plans include contributing to the knowledge base in his research area and growing in his academic career at UKZN.

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A rural student with a dream to become a chemist has achieved her goal with the award of her Master of Science degree cum laude after just one year of study.

Ms Nomfundo Mahlangeni, the youngest of four children, was raised by her mother, a single parent and retired high school teacher. After completing high school Mahlangeni was accepted into the then Faculty of Science and Agriculture at UKZN with financial assistance. The transition from high school to university was extremely difficult. She told UKZNOnline she had to work even harder to familiarise herself with concepts and contexts that others took for granted.

Nomfundo realised that she had a passion for research whilst completing her Honours research project in Chemistry. She even managed to have one research paper published based on her Honours project. She subsequently registered for a Masters degree at the beginning of 2012 submitted her thesis for examination at the end of that year and was awarded the degree cum laude.

Not only has Mahlangeni realised her dream, but she has achieved something that most students do not: completion of an MSc degree in one year – and with flying colours.

She attributed her success to her supervisors who constantly motivated and guided her, her family who were always supportive, and her friends in the laboratory – what she calls her “home away from home”. She also admitted that such an outcome would be virtually impossible without sheer commitment, hard work and dedication.

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