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Two pioneering UJ researchers honoured with 2016 Women in Science Awards

Breaking research frontiers, asking new scientific questions; investigating new possibilities and finding innovative solutions that supports and promotes an array of science and technology initiatives, require tenacity and mark real advance in science and research.

The University of Johannesburg’s (UJ), Prof Jane Catherine Ngila and Prof Esther Akinlabi are typical examples of women researchers who push the boundaries of discovery and progress by undertaking frontier research, thus setting a change to ensure sustainable development in South Africa.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor honoured both Prof Ngila (Faculty of Science, UJ) and Prof Akinlabi (Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, UJ) at the national Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) 2016 South African Women in Science Awards (WISA), on Thursday, 11 August 2016.

They were named as the winners in the Distinguished Women Researchers (Physical and Engineering Sciences) and the Distinguished Young Women Researchers (Physical and Engineering Sciences) categories.

WISA recognises outstanding contributions of female scientists and researchers in science and technology education, training and employment in South Africa.

Speaking at the awards ceremony, the Minister of Science and Technology, Ms Naledi Pandor, encouraged more women to participate in science. “The WISA finalists and winners will be invited to participate in science awareness campaigns led by the Department to serve as role models for other women, particularly young girls,” she said.

About UJ’s Distinguished Women Researchers

Prof Jane Catherine Ngila holds a BEd degree in Science; an MSc in Chemistry (Kenyatta University) and a PhD in Chemistry (University of New South Wales, Australia).

She held academic positions at Kenyatta University, the University of Botswana and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. In 2011, Prof Ngila joined UJ as a full professor of analytical/ environmental chemistry and in 2012 appointed as the Deputy Head of Department for Applied Chemistry in charge of research and postgraduate studies, and in 2013 she became the Head of the Department until June 2016.

As a National Research Foundation (NRF) rated researcher, Prof Ngila’s current research work focusses on nanotechnology for water treatment, water quality monitoring, and the development of analytical methods of detecting substances in various environmental matrices.

She has successfully supervised 17 Doctoral, 22 Masters and 21 Honours students, and has mentored 13 postdoctoral fellows.

She presented more than 120 conference papers in various countries and has authored and co-authored over 130 peer reviewed journal articles, books and book chapters.

Prof Ngila is a member of the South African Chemical Institute and the Kenya Chemical Society, and was previously a member of the American Chemical Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, and the Royal Australian Chemical Institute. She serves on the advisory boards for the Water South Africa journal, African Utility Week (Clean Power and Water), the International Conference on Pure and Applied Chemistry; and is the UJ’s representative in the WaterNet/ WARFSA/GWP-SA Committee.

In January 2016, she was nominated an honorary member of the advisory board for the Jarislowsky Chair in Water and Global Health at Carleton University (Canada). She is a member of a number of reference groups for South African Water Research Commission projects.

Prof Esther AkinlabiProf Esther Akinlabi is the Department Head for Mechanical Engineering Science. She obtained her doctoral degree in Mechanical Engineering from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth in 2011. Her research was on friction stir welding of dissimilar materials, in particular aluminium and copper, for tailored applications in electronic and electrical engineering.

In 2016, she was promoted to the position of full professor. Owing to her exceptional research publication output, supervision of students, and the attraction of external grants to the University, Prof Akinlabi is ranked among the top four researchers in UJ’s Faculty of Engineering and the Built environment.

As a National Research Foundation (NRF) rated researcher, Prof Akinlabi’s research focused on the field of advanced and modern manufacturing processes like laser additive manufacturing, in particular friction stir welding and laser material processing.

She leads and supervises a research team comprising 28 postgraduate students and seven postdoctoral fellows. She has successfully supervised four PhD and 12 Master’s students.

Prof Akinlabi has authored and co-authored over 160 peer-reviewed publications and filed two patents.

In 2014, she was the recipient of the UJ Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Award for Innovator of the Year.

In the same year, she received the Excellence in Engineering and Technology in Academic Research Award at the Women in Engineering and the Built Environment Summit.

She is a member of the South African Young Academy of Science and is registered with the Engineering Council of South Africa.

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