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Future Internationally Leading Researchers are recognised at the NRF Awards

PORT ELIZABETH, September 26, 2018This year SA’s top scientific minds descended to the Eastern Cape for the annual NRF Awards ceremony at Port Elizabeth’s Boardwalk Hotel & Convention Centre. Amongst those who were honoured at the event were two (four) and four (4) budding young researchers who received Special awards as Next Generation Researchers, Emerging Researchers awards and P-ratings for 2018 respectively.

The NRF provides funding to postgraduate students in order to address the skills shortages in the fields of science, engineering, technology, humanities and social sciences. One of the aims is to increase the possibility of retaining suitably qualified young scientists, thereby increasing the pool of researchers and knowledge workers in the NSI. The Research Excellence Award for Next Generation Researchers recognises outstanding academic performance by final year doctoral students.

Two (2) of these awards went to:

  • Mrs Natalie Benjamin-Damons Department of Physiotherapy University of the Witwatersrand. Natalie Benjamin-Damons’ research focus is on paediatrics, child health and development in children living with HIV. In particular, she’s interested in the physiotherapy management of children living with HIV due to the dearth of literature on the topic.
  • Mr Edward Netherlands, Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management, North-West University. Edward Netherlands’s research focuses on parasitology in South Africa, particularly the ecology, systematics and evolutionary biology of frog blood parasites. His work aims to determine the diversity, life history and the host- parasite and vector interactions of blood parasites. In addition to this, his work looks at the use of frog blood parasites as potential bioindicators of ecosystem health. These different blood parasites are closely related and have similar life cycles to the parasites that cause human malaria, filariasis, and African trypanosomiasis/sleeping sickness. Although the host animals of these parasites do not display the same deadly symptoms as humans, this research will help piece together the complex puzzle of the evolution of these microscopic yet economically andecologically important organisms.

The Research Excellence Award for Early Career/Emerging Researchers recognises outstanding research excellence by current Thuthuka grantholders. The Thuthuka funding instrument  is central to the NRF’s Human Capital Development Strategy in as far as it relates to enhancing the research stature of Early Career/ Emerging Researchers from designated groups, with the aim of redressing historical imbalances in the South African researcher cohort.

The awards were received by:

  • Professor Tricia Naicker, Discipline of Pharmaceutical Sciences University of KwaZulu-Natal. In 2012 Professor Tricia Naicker completed her PhD with a remarkable 23 DHET publications in the field of chiral organocatalysis, the only specialist in the country in this area of research. Since her PhD supervisors had little knowledge in this particular field, she had to independently design the ideas for her study, resulting in a fully published thesis.
  • Dr Mohlopheni Marakalala, Department of Pathology University of Cape Town. Dr Marakalala’s research focuses on understanding immune factors associated with the pathological progression of tuberculosis (TB) with a view to develop new therapies to augment current treatment protocols.


A P-rating is given to researchers (normally under 35 years of age) who have held a doctorate or equivalent qualification for less than five years at the time of application. These researchers are considered likely to become future international leaders in their respective fields, on the basis of exceptional potential demonstrated in research performance and output during doctoral and/or early post-doctoral careers.

Among the winners was Dr Sarah Fawcett, Department of Oceanography, University of Cape Town. Her research interest in the ocean’s biogeochemical cycles stems from a desire to understand the connections between the different components of Earth’s climate system. Her primary research field is Earth and Marine Sciences and she obtained her PhD from Princeton University in 2012.

The University of Cape Town’s Dr Geoffrey Howarth, Department of Geological Sciences, is an ingenious petrologist, whose interest lies in the evolution of ancient 3 billion-year-old cratonic regions through the study of kimberlites, mantle xenoliths, diamonds, and continental flood basalts (CFBs). He achieved this through a multidisciplinary approach involving field work; petrography; mineral chemistry; X-ray computed tomography; geochemistry, and thermodynamic modelling. In recent years, he has expanded his research in applying his knowledge as a terrestrial petrologist to the study of Mars through the use of meteorites. In this combined terrestrial and Martian research, he aims at approaching big-picture questions involving plume volcanism and the evolution of the mantles of Earth and Mars over billions of years.

Dr Gareth Hempson from the Ndlovu Node, South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON), explores how fire and herbivores shape the dynamics of grassy ecosystems, and vice versa. This involves identifying the key attributes of plants, animals and fire that structure ecological processes at small scales, and working out how they scale up to influence ecosystem properties at regional to continental scales.

An Associate Professor at the University Of Cape Town, Faculty Of Law, Dr Alistair Price’s research focuses on how human rights have the potential to influence private law in profound ways. His research into this area examines the relationship between private law rights and fundamental rights, including constitutional rights, in different legal systems.

Issued by: the National Research Foundation



Palesa Mokoena
Tel: (012) 481 4958
E-mail: palesa.mokoena@nrf.ac.za


NRF Awards: The annual NRF Awards recognise and celebrate South African research excellence. The awards presented to researchers are in two categories, the ratings linked awards and special recognition awards. The rating linked awards are given to those who have qualified for an A or P rating, as evaluated through the peer review based NRF rating system. The special recognition awards provide a platform to honour researchers for career achievements and contributions to knowledge creation and dissemination, as well as capacity development and transformation.

About the NRF Ratings: The NRF rating system is a key driver in the NRF’s aim to build a globally competitive science system in South Africa. It is a valuable tool for benchmarking the quality of our researchers against the best in the world. NRF ratings are allocated based on a researcher’s recent research outputs and impact as perceived by international peer reviewers. The rating system encourages researchers to publish high-quality outputs in high impact journals/outlets. Rated researchers as supervisors will impart cutting-edge skills to the next generation of researchers. The rating of individuals is based primarily on the quality and impact of their research outputs over the past eight years, taking into consideration the evaluation made by local and international peers. It identifies researchers who count among the leaders in their fields of expertise and gives recognition to those who constantly produce high-quality research outputs. Several South African universities use the outcomes of the NRF evaluation and rating process to position themselves as research-intensive institutions, while others provide incentives for their staff members to acquire and maintain a rating and give special recognition to top-rated researchers. The rating process is coordinated by members of academia who are represented on the following committees: · 25 Specialist Committees coordinated by a Convener · The Executive Evaluation Committee · The Appeals Committee The ratings that are awarded fall within the following categories: · A – Leading international researchers · B – Internationally acclaimed researchers · C – Established researchers · P – Prestigious Awards · Y – Promising young researchers

About the NRF: The National Research Foundation (NRF) is an independent statutory body set up in accordance with the National Research Foundation Act. Its mandate is to support and promote research through funding, human resource development and the provision of the necessary research facilities in order to facilitate the creation of knowledge, innovation and development in all fields of science and technology, including indigenous knowledge, and thereby contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of all South Africans. Website: www.nrf.ac.za | Twitter: @NRF_News | Facebook: @NRFSouthAfrica.

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