Youth Month 2023: Vuyo Moses Mollo

Youth Month 2023: Vuyo Moses Mollo

June is Youth Month, and this year the NRF is celebrating the Youth of the NRF who are advancing knowledge, transforming lives, and inspiring a nation. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us.

Mr Vuyo Moses Mollo is a PhD candidate in Chemistry at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). He received NRF funding for his Honours and Master’s studies. He is currently receiving funding for the running cost of his PhD project through the DSI-NRF South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI).

How did your journey start?

My family and I are from a small neighbourhood called Lawley in Johannesburg South, Gauteng. I have one sibling – a younger brother, Mpho Mollo. Our parents have always supported us from when we were young. My brother and I attended primary and high school at Flamingo Primary School and MH Joosub Secondary in Lenasia.

I won my first academic award when I was in Grade 1 as a learner, and this was because of my parents. My mum was my tutor throughout my entire primary school days, and she would help me study and do spelling tests. When I got into high school, my dad helped me choose subjects I would do in Grade 10 to help me pursue studies post-high school.

I am currently a PhD candidate in Chemistry at UJ, and my brother is also pursuing his Honours degree in Computer Science at UJ. I was able to strive this far because of my family’s strength and belief in me.

I grew up in a family where obtaining a university degree was a dream for my parents and me. I did Mathematics and Science while in high school. I knew I wanted to do chemistry right after high school because of the indirect influence I got from my dad. He is an investigative officer, and after work, he would always tell me stories about the water sites he visited. I remember he told me he visited a wastewater treatment plant and was amazed at how freshwater is cleaned and reused. This intrigued me and I wanted to learn more about the processes of decontaminating water, which led me to study chemistry.

I later enrolled at the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) for a National Diploma in Analytical Chemistry. I was the first in my family to obtain a university qualification, but this was the start of my studies as I have always wanted to further them. I later enrolled for a B.Tech in Chemistry at VUT. My research project was based on water and titled The Degradation of Methylene Blue in Wastewater Released from Textile Industries. After my BTech in Chemistry, I then enrolled at UJ to further pursue my studies for a Master’s of Science: Chemistry. I completed my degree in record time, presented my work at conferences, and published.

I am pleased to see how far I’ve come to where I am currently and I hope to inspire other kids. It has not been an easy path but with hard work, consistency, and support from family and friends, I achieved my academic dream of pursuing my PhD because this is what I truly envisioned for myself as a child while growing up.

How has your affiliation with the NRF impacted your studies/ career?

My association with NRF has greatly helped me with my studies. In 2018, I did my BTech: Chemistry degree and my relationship with NRF commenced there. The funding assisted me with my tuition, which made life easier for me and my family. Thereafter, I enrolled at UJ for my MSc: Chemistry and I was also funded by the NRF through grantholder-linked funding. I enjoyed my research because I had no financial worries thanks to the NRF and I was able to reach my full potential and complete my MSc in record time.

Our research lab on campus has some DSI-NRF SARChI-funded instruments that help me progress easily with my PhD research project. My association with NRF has positively impacted my studies and made financial sleepless nights disappear.

Did you have to overcome any obstacles to be where you are today, and what did you learn from it?

No dream or goal is without difficult obstacles. When I started my academic journey, my family had to pay for my undergraduate diploma because I had no bursary. This was hard on us as my father was the breadwinner, and every cent was directly from him. Because I had a dream of becoming the first graduate in my family it gave me positive pressure, hope, and courage to work harder on my studies.  

During my undergraduate studies, the situation at home was terrible. My parents’ goals had to be put on hold so that I could continue with my education. In my first year, renovations were happening at home and those house renovations had to take a step back to fund my studies. I remember on my first day at res when my cousin dropped me off, she was in tears because this dream was becoming a reality for my entire family.

Difficult obstacles are always around, and it is up to you to give in or work through them. I believe they shape us into strong individuals.

What is your research focus on/what is your area of expertise?

I specialise in analytical and environmental chemistry and am currently focused on treating contaminated water. Growing up in SA, we have seen how water scarcity is an issue, especially the provision of clean freshwater to all parts of the country. 

For example, it has been a noticeable problem in society how human and industrial activities contaminate rivers and streams and these effects have had a negative impact on livestock, plants and humans. Currently, the country is facing a cholera outbreak due to contaminated freshwater systems. 

My PhD research is titled, Solid-state Gelation of Manganese Sulphide with Layered Alginate-gelation Beads for Direct Degradation of Complex Micropollutants in Water Matrices.

The growth and demand for various chemicals in the 21st century have increased the introduction of emerging contaminants (ECs) in water mediums. These ECs carry organic and inorganic chemicals from pharmaceuticals, plasticisers, additives, cosmetics, flame retardants, and detergents that have found their way into freshwater and wastewater systems at concentrations capable of causing harm to aquatic life and the environment. Therefore, my work seeks to help treat and rehabilitate water mediums using hydrogels and help solve the water crisis in South Africa.

How can your work/studies advance knowledge, transform lives, and inspire a nation?

Environmental management is crucial and solving water security and scarcity is critical. My work will not only impact me but also help millions of people around the country to have clean and healthy water resources.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

One that stands out is making my parents proud of my academic achievements. It warms my heart to see them smile because of their hard work in raising me and my brother.

Second, was completing my MSc degree with distinction. With consistency and perseverance, I achieved this and inspired friends and family to continue striving for their academic achievements. 

I recently published a paper that will help contribute valid information about environmental health and freshwater contamination. The Evaluation of Surface Water Quality Using Various Indices for Heavy Metals in Sasolburg, South Africa is available here.

What are your career aspirations for the future?

In the future, I would love to see myself being a world-renowned and NRF-rated researcher, contributing positively and playing a prominent role in society, which is what we strive for as scientists.

This work is licenced under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 South Africa (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 ZA) license. Please view the terms for republishing here.

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