Congratulations to 2 new SARChI Chairs in Science

3 Sep 2015 - 11:00

The latest SARChI call was directed specifically at women researchers as part of an effort to correct the local and global gender imbalance in research. According to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), women account for only about 30% of the world’s researchers, while only one in five countries have achieved gender parity in research.

The SARChI Women in Research initiative invited public South African universities to submit up to five research proposals, which were then assessed by a rigorous NRF-managed peer-review process.

 Professor Danie Visser, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for research and internationalisation at UCT, says: “We are not there yet, but every improvement in the gender imbalance is significant. All five women have made a significant impact in their respective fields, both locally and internationally. It is my hope that they will inspire the next generation of young women to come up the ranks of research.”

 

The total of 42 new SARChI Chairs were announced on Wednesday, 2 September 2015, by Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor, Director-General of Science and Technology Dr Phil Mjwara, and Dr Beverly Damonse, the acting Chief Executive Officer of the NRF.

 The new Science Faculty SARChI Chairs are:

 

 Professor Jill Farrant - Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UCT for Systems Biology Studies on Plant Dessication Tolerance for Food Security.

 Drought has long been considered the single greatest threat to world agriculture; in the coming decades, in sub-Saharan Africa, this is predicted to be exacerbated by the effects of global climate change. This SARChi aims to produce, through biotechnology, crops with considerable drought tolerance to enable food security in extreme drought conditions. It aims not only to achieve this for cereal crops (which currently provide the bulk of the world’s food supply) but for food crops that are uniquely African. Such applied outcomes will be of value to subsistence and commercial farmers alike.

 Professor Jill Farrant is a leader in the field of plant responses to water deficit stress (drought/desiccation tolerance), receiving international recognition for her research. She was the African/Arab States recipient of the 2012 L'Oreal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science, one of only five scientists worldwide who were selected by an international jury as "researchers who will have a major impact on society and help light the way to the future". In 2009, she was awarded an A rating by the National Research Foundation (the first female researcher at UCT ever to receive such a rating) as well as being made a member of the UCT College of Fellows. She is about to go abroad to receive the EPFL (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne)-WISH (Women in Science and Humanities) Foundation Erna Hamberger Prize 2015 for being a role model for biologists world wide. “My philosophy,” she has said, “is that a comprehensive understanding of mechanisms employed in tolerance of dessication will facilitate meaningful choices for application toward production of crops with improved drought tolerance.”

 

 

Dr Amanda Weltman - Senior lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at UCT for Physical Cosmology 

The research proposed through this SARChI Chair will provide a greater understanding of our universe from the smallest to the largest scales. Crucially, this Chair will be an investment in the ideas of South African scientists tested in South African skies. This knowledge area is one of the most exciting scientific fields that will provide human capital development in the mathematical and physical sciences, arguably the most fundamental of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) areas and unquestionably those most lacking in women at all levels but especially in senior positions. Indeed, Weltman will be the first woman in the mathematical or physical sciences to be awarded a SARChI Chair to date. These areas are key to the national development plan of transitioning into a knowledge economy.

Dr Amanda Weltman is a theoretical physicist at UCT. Weltman’s research focus is on the fundamental physics that underlies the nature of the Universe. The goals of her research are to study the Universe as a whole, while gaining insight into its origin, composition, structure, evolution and ultimately its fate. In the last few years Weltman has won several awards including the South African Institute of Physics Silver Jubilee Medal (2013), the Elsevier Young Scientist Award (2012) and the NSTF-BHP Billiton, TW Kambule Award (2012) among others. She is a member of the Cape Town Science Centre Scientific Advisory Board, the South African Royal Society and on the executive of the South African Young Academy of Sciences. “My training and my interests lie in both high-energy particle theory and in cosmology,” says Weltman, “and my research is focused on developing bridges between the two.”

 

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