FameLab South Africa, the national leg of the world’s largest science communication competition, is about to reach its climactic final. Get inspired by the 15 charismatic young scientists who are transforming South Africa with their innovative research and their infectious passion for sharing it.
PINKY MOKWENA - A Master of Science candidate, directs her research towards the development of a cost-effective treatment method using maize-tassel as a bio-solvent to remove certain types of pollutants that contaminate different sources of water which are resistant to conventional water treatment systems. Her passion for environmental sustainability, together with communication skills honed by the FameLab competition, will enable her to enhance the lives of ordinary citizens while preserving and protecting the environment.
Brenda De Gama - Body donation plays a key role in medical education and anatomical research, but there are few donated bodies received from the Black African citizens. These low levels of participation in body donation programmes from this population group prompted Dr Brenda De Gama, a health research ethics fellow at DRILL UKZN, to investigate belief systems surrounding body donation. Through her research, Brenda wants to inform the public, especially the Black African population, on how body donation is an important resource for training future health professionals, and that body shortages compromise medical research. Her participation in FameLab has equipped her with the skills to effectively communicate her scientific research to a broader audience, and has given her the confidence to continue in her campaign to educate the public about how body donation contributes to science.
Lerato Ndlovu - Efficient patient management is essential to TB cure rates, which is why Lerato Ndlovu aims to develop an effective way to determine patient treatment methods. Lerato has completed her Masters degree in Biochemistry and Plant Breeding, is currently pursuing her PhD and chose to focus her research on TB immunology in order to improve TB cure rates. She wishes to bridge the gap between the science community and the public via school programmes which will reduce misunderstanding about medical and healthcare advancement. The FameLab competition has taught her to communicate effectively by capturing listeners’ attention with concise yet understandable facts for maximum impact.
Charissa Worthman - It is no secret that South Africa has had its fair share of challenges surrounding the production and supply of energy. As a result, we have been obliged to explore other unconventional means of sourcing energy. Charissa Worthman, who is currently obtaining her masters degree in Environmental Management, is conducting her research on the controversial topic of unconventional oil and gas extraction. She wishes to present these findings to the public as it is essential that everyone understands the role of science and the impact its developments can have on their lives and the environment – both positive and negative.
Johannes Joubert - A major threat to eucalyptus plantations is the eucalyptus snout beetle, which eats the shoots and leaves of certain eucalyptus trees, stunting their growth and in severe cases can reduce a plantations wood production by 85% over the trees 10-year growing period. As part of his MSc in Zoology at FABI, Johannes Joubert studied how differences in the chemical composition of leaves of different eucalyptus species could alter the beetle’s feeding behaviour. This led him to his PhD in Zoology, which focuses on the relationship between the beetles, eucalyptus trees and the parasitoid wasp, anaphes nitens. His findings help better understand Eucalyptus trees resistance against these beetles, thus allowing plant breeder to create improved trees which suffer reduced damages. Johannes believes that the language of science is often too complex, alienating the general public. Through FameLab, he’s learnt how to deliver his research in a less complicated manner to reach a greater audience, and in doing so, hopes to raise awareness of the effects of the Eucalyptus snout beetle.
Josephine Quefellec - A single wasp is a mild nuisance to deal with, so imagine the damage an entire swarm can cause. Josephine Quefellec, who has specialized in the ecology and evolution of insects, now focuses her PhD research on combating the damage caused by these invasive insects which ravage thousands of pine trees in South Africa every year. Her passion enables her to contribute towards the conservation and development of natural ecosystems and agriculture. She believes that conveying this passion to the public will reduce misinformation and help raise awareness about such issues by explaining precisely why everyone ought to care about them.
Keagile Lepule - The importance of mental health is gradually being addressed, yet there is still some stigma and uncertainty regarding its treatment. The use of natural treatment sourced from South African medicinal plants has potential which Keagile Lepule strives to explore. After her interest in Biology and Human Physiology inspired her to pursue her Honours, Masters and now PhD in Pharmacology, Keagile decided to focus her attention on creating awareness and medical treatment for mental health diseases, particularly depression. She believes this awareness can be reached solely through communicating its importance in a simplified yet informative way.
Mannda Ndou - While there were many far-reaching ramifications of the African Slave Trade, one of the more perplexing consequences has been its genetic impact on current populations previously involved in the events. There is a huge gap in the knowledge surrounding the African Slave Trade from a genetic perspective, and this is what Mannda Ndou is passionate about. After acquiring his undergraduate and Honours Degree, he is currently pursuing his Masters Degree in Zoology. Ndou intends to contribute valuable research to this incomplete knowledge and furthermore, convey this research to the public so they may better understand the impact of these important historical events.
Muano Mukununde - Pollution and global warming is undoubtedly an uphill battle that can only be fought by a unified approach. One such solution is the operation of recycling household waste. Muano Mukununde graduated from the University of Johannesburg with a degree in Chemical Engineering and thereafter founded a recycling initiative aimed at reducing toxic gases released by landfills. Muano recognizes that the skill of effective communication is essential to her line of work as it involves a direct approach to various communities who can play a major role in minimizing the effects of global warming through proper waste disposal and recycling.
Nabila Ismail - Any mutation in the genetic code of bacteria found in infectious diseases such as TB can cause a resistance to drugs currently used for its treatment. After completing her Undergraduate, Honours and Masters Degree in Biochemistry, Nabila Ismail’s passion for scientific research prompted her to focus her PhD research on new and repurposed drugs for the treatment of drug-resistant TB, and identify genetic markers that cause this resistance. She has successfully completed her PhD studies. Furthermore, Nabila aims to reduce negativity and inaccurate information surrounding infectious diseases by communicating vital scientific facts to the general public in a way they can relate to and understand.
Sendibitiyosi Gandidzanwa - The advancement of medical treatment is always profound, yet not without its fair share of limitations. In this vein, some of the shortcomings of current cancer therapy are specificity, low efficiency and the financial cost involved. Sendi Gandidzanwa aims to address these setbacks by contributing valuable research on a different treatment method. Sendi completed his Masters degree in Chemistry and is currently conducting his PhD research on a palladium-based drug to be used in the treatment of cancer. As palladium is abundantly sourced in South Africa, this makes the process cost-effective. Sendi feels strongly about sharing his passion for science with the public, especially scholars, to encourage them to explore various fields of science.
Teboho Kwetempane - Industrial pesticides protect agriculture from harmful micro-organisms, however they may also cause negative side-effects when consumed. Teboho Kwetempane, who is currently completing his masters degree in Agriculture an Plant Protection, has based his study area on developing natural-based and eco-friendly pesticides by making use of a species of plant found in South Africa. His work combines standard indigenous knowledge systems with advanced Agricultural approaches. Teboho’s own approach to scientific communication is the art of simplicity in order to connect with the community, educate them about scientific innovation and inspire young learners to also follow the scientific path of education.
Themba Ntuli - Water pollution is a matter of contention that presents many challenges to those responsible for purifying and supplying fresh water. PhD student Themba Ntuli aspires to develop a means of removing these organic and inorganic pollutants from water sources using carbon nanomaterials. Themba’s interest in science began as a young student in school, and he wishes to spark the same kind of interest in younger students still in secondary or tertiary education. Direct and creative science communication could also lead to more funding in science, which in turn leads to more rapid and effective solutions for world problems.
Yenziwe Mbuyisa - The process of restoring and preserving damaged landscapes requires dedication and passion for the environment. Environmental custodian Yenziwe channeled her zeal into a research project directed at restoring and managing important landscapes using data on previous states of the environment. She is pursuing her honours degree in environmental science and is also part of an initiative aiming to create comprehensible scientific journals in various indigenous South African languages. Yenziwe hopes that this unique goal of science communication, through overcoming the language barrier, will encourage a greater interest in science by making it more accessible and relatable to the average person.
Zakkiya Cassim - The female population is bound to benefit from research aimed at treating an infection which afflicts at least 75% of its numbers. Zakkiya Cassim, who is currently pursuing her Masters Degree in Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Microbiology at the WITS Advanced Drug Delivery Platform (WADDP), has decided to conduct her research on the treatment of vaginal thrush. This involves the use of an anti-fungal drug co-delivered with a probiotic as a therapeutic co-prevention system. Zakkiya believes that scientists ought to present their research directly to the public as this research presents solutions to problems society is facing. This communication may also inspire younger generations to take up careers in science and further contribute innovative research to the scientific field.