COMPILED BY: NOKWANDA KUBHEKA AND SUSANNA ANBU.

UP experts win at NSTF-South32 Awards

The National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) Awards, in partnership with South32, is an annual ceremony that awards outstanding contributions to science, engineering and technology, and innovation.

The award ceremony was held online this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These awards are popularly known as the “Science Oscars” of South Africa and are the most far-reaching and sought-after national awards of their sort in the nation.

Professor Mike Wingfield, the founding Director of UP’s Forestry, Agriculture and Biotechnology Institute (FABI) from 1998 to 2017 and Advisor to the UP Executive, won the Special Annual Theme Award in recognition of the International Year of Plant Health. His research was based on the effect of diseases and insect problems on the health of trees and plants. According to Prof Wingfield, it is important to conduct research on plant health because – although most consider plants a wellspring of food or for fuelwood, paper, and other wood items – we rely upon plants and trees for the wellsprings of a lot of water and the air that we breathe. The eventual fate of humankind relies upon the strength of plants and this is compromised.

Professor Josua P. Meyer, the Head of the Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering, and Chair of UP’s School of Engineering in the EBIT Faculty won the Engineering Research Capacity Development Award in the male category. His research is on the specialized parts of clean energy, which incorporates renewable energy sources and the associated efficiency of heat transfer in heat exchangers. He states that the age of clean energy and the utilization thereof, without adding to natural harm, is at present the greatest test in South Africa and globally.

UP academics part of research into elephant deaths in Botswana

As part of The Elephant Project, scientists from South Africa and Pakistan combined their expertise in an effort to understand why more than 350 elephants in Botswana have died in just two months.

The research team behind the paper was comprised of Assistant Professor Dr Shahan Azeem of the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences in Lahore, Pakistan; Dr Roy Bengis retired Chief State Veterinarian of the Kruger National Park; Professor Rudi van Aarde, Emeritus Professor and Conservation Ecology Chair at the University of Pretoria’s Department of Zoology and Entomology; and Professor Armanda Bastos, Head of the Department of Zoology and Entomology at UP and an affiliate of UP’s Centre for Veterinary Wildlife Studies.

Their discourse, “Mass die-off of African elephants in Botswana: pathogen, poison or a perfect storm?”, was published in the African Journal of Wildlife Research. The article attempts to recognize potential reasons for these sudden deaths, presenting potential bacterial and viral pathogens as candidates. The paper calls for sample collections from the elephant carcasses in Botswana in order to provide conclusive evidence for the reason behind the unfortunate mass die-off. As of the publication date of this article, tests undertaken on samples collected from 300 elephant carcasses have proved inconclusive thus far, with the Botswana government ruling out pesticides and agrochemicals.

Third round of data applications open for second semester

On 15th August, the University of Pretoria (UP) opened the third round of data bundle applications. Similar to the prior setups, the data bundle comprises of 20GB (10GB anytime and 10GB night time), valid for 30 days upon activation.

Students who had previously applied for the data bundles are requested to confirm that their details are current and valid, or update changes to their details accordingly. Furthermore, students who did not receive data bundles upon their prior applications for the second round of data bundles are requested to re-apply for the third round of data bundles currently open.

Students can apply by logging into their respective student portals, and manoeuvring to the “GO” button associated with the “Student Center” tile, and navigate to the tiles labelled “UP Student Self-service”, and locate a tab labelled “Data Bundle”.

The first set of numbers were forwarded to the mobile network operators on 21 August. The University of Pretoria has articulated that a new batch of mobile numbers will be compiled and forwarded periodically to mobile network operators every 4-5 days. The applications for the third round of data bundles are expected to close on 28 August.

The university has warned of prospective lag times in the activation of the data bundles that students are expected to receive, specifying that the data bundles do not apply to study applicants who do not undertake study at UP and can only be issued to SIM card holders form the following mobile operators: Vodacom, MTN, Telkom or Cell C.

Launch of HIV selftesting platform

Aviro Health, a start-up supported by UP’s technology incubator and accelerator, TuksNovation, has launched a chatbot-based platform that offers individuals access to HIV self-testing resources, and the information they need to seek treatment and manage their condition during this extraordinary time.

The platform, called Ithaka, is the result of the cooperation between Aviro Health and Population Services Kenya, which distributes kits for free through community-based organizations and at heavily reinforced rates through online pharmacies. Ithaka was launched in 2019 in South Africa, where live trials with Aurum Institute, Doctors Without Borders, Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, and research institutions, including Johns Hopkins, have shown the platform to be effective in supporting patients and promoting healthy behaviours.

 

Image: Madhuri Rambaran

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