Professorial Inaugural address: Prof Philiswa Nomngongo
Environmental analytical chemistry has changed significantly in past decades. This is due to the rapid developments in technologies as well as emergence of various pollutants. Because of this, the environmental analytical chemistry field has benefitted from the emergence of nanotechnology.
According to Philiswa Nomngongo, a Professor in the Department of Chemical Sciences at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), the use of nanotechnologies in environmental analytical chemistry prove to be very important in responding to the urgent call for environmentally friendly processes.
Professor Nomngongo pointed out that the flexibility and distinct properties nanomaterials play have a fundamental role in the development of new methodologies. In addition, nanomaterials offer an improved selectivity, adsorption, and extraction efficiency towards target analytes, which, in turn, improves the sensitivity of the complete analytical method, when she delivered her professorial inauguration address, Nanotechnology and Environmental Analytical Chemistry- Current Status and Future Perspectives. Prof Nomngongo’s inauguration took place in the University’s Council Chambers, Madibeng Building, Auckland Park Kingsway Campus on Thursday, 22 April 2021.
Prof Nomngongo argued that nanotechnology has allowed scientists to develop miniaturized sample preparation methods for environmental analysis. These include solid phase microextraction, solid phase nano-extraction and advanced solid-phase extraction techniques that comply with green chemistry requirements.
“To be more explicit, nanomaterials play a big role in the process of sample preparation method development for various applications, ranging from food and environmental analysis and, to bioanalytical applications,” she said.
She highlighted that future perspectives includes the development of automated sample preparation devices such as microextraction by packed sorbent (MEPS) and in-tube solid-phase microextraction, among others. “Fit-for-purpose methods for key pollutants in environmental matrices are required in environmental monitoring programmes.”
Prof Nomngongo explained that the application of nanotechnology-based analytical processes has allowed Chemists to profile the occurrence and distribution of pollutants in our water system as well as the concentration levels of these contaminants. “These methods have also allowed us to be able to classify the quality of borehole, spring, and river water to whether they are fit for drinking purpose or not.”
According to Prof Nomngongo there is a collaboration with Prof Moutloali’s research group in developing and applying nanomaterials for water remediation. “Our current emphasis in water treatment is on absorption and membrane technologies and integrated systems. Therefore, we will continue with the application nanomaterials for other purposes such as fabrication of liquid chromatographic columns. This is because studies have shown that the use nanotechnology in analytical chromatographic methods can improve enrichment capability, selectivity and separation efficiency of the column. Designing nanomaterials containing selective and appropriate chemical moieties will allow the separation and quantification of specific classes of pollutants of interest without interferences.”
Prof Nomngongo is a tier 1 DST/NRF South African Research Chair in Nanotechnology for water with an NRF Y1 rating. Her scientific career has been dedicated to Environmental Analytical Chemistry and Nanotechnology aiming in solving different environmental problems in the field of water quality and environmental protection.
Her research achievements have been widely recognised through prestigious fellowships and awards which include amongst others: L’Oreal-UNESCO Sub-Saharan Women in Science Regional fellowship in 2014; South African Women in Science award in the Distinguished Young Woman Research in the Natural and Engineering Sciences category in 2017 and Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Award: Most Promising Young Researcher of the Year in 2017.