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13 March 2020
Nandipha Botha: Quantum Dots, Drug Discovery And The Presentation Of A Lifetime

13 March 2020

“Here’s how you know you’ve got a good presentation on your hands. You’ve rehearsed the content a lot before the big day, so you know what you want to say. You care about the subject matter, so your passion can be passed on to the audience. And you really understand the content, so you can engage with questions no matter how difficult.”

By following her own advice, Dr Nandipha Loveness Botha (a post-doctoral student in Chemistry), won the Best Oral Presentation award in the Materials for Nanoscience/Nanotechnology category at the 10th International Conference of the African Materials Research Society (AMRS2019), held at the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) in Arusha, Tanzania. (UWC Biotechnology PhD student Darius Riziki Martin won the Best Poster Award at the same conference.)

AMRS2019 drew over 700 participants from around the world to build knowledge, foster relationships and promote action for further understanding and collaborations in the broad fields associated with materials science and technology - especially from an African perspective. The oral presentations covered seven themes: Materials For Health; Materials For Sustainable Manufacturing and Construction; Materials For Water and Environmental Mitigation Technologies; Materials For Nanoscience/Nanotechnology; Materials For Energy; Materials For Mining and Mineral Processing; and, Materials For Computational Science.

Originally from Lady Frere in the Eastern Cape, Nandipha’s fascination with science took her from the University of Fort Hare (where she completed a BSc degree majoring in Geology and Chemistry, BSc Hons in Chemistry, and MSc in Chemistry) to the University of KwaZulu-Natal (where she obtained her PhD in Chemistry).


It was another expertly delivered presentation that brought her to UWC.

“I heard Prof Martin Onani’s presentation at a South African Chemical Institute conference we attended in Grahamstown while I was doing my PhD,” she says. “It was very interesting, so I started reading his publications, and found his research fascinating. So I knew I wanted to join his group for post-doctoral studies - and now that I have my PhD, here I am.”

Her research focuses on metal complex loaded nanogels and their biomedical application. The work Nandipha presented at the AMRS2019 conference bore the catchy title, “Effects of reaction temperature and cadmium source on the optical, morphological characterization and cytotoxicity studies of CdSe/ZnSe quantum dots”.

“Basically, what we do is we synthesise metal complexes, and thermolyze them to get nanoparticles or quantum dots. Then we compare the biological activity of the nanomaterials and the complexes when loaded on hydrogels. And in the work presented in this conference, the toxicity of the synthesized quantum dots was tested on intestinal epithelial barrier cells - the cells lining the inner surface of the gut.”

When not studying or in the lab, Nandipha can usually be found either in church or spending time with her friends - or putting her skills as a presenter to good work.

“I am currently teaching first-year Chemistry part-time at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology,” she says. “It helps me pay the bills and develop my oral skills at the same time - and also get across some of my love for the field.”

Imparting that love, and helping to guide others to their potential, is important to Nandipha - she’s seen firsthand just how much of a difference that kind of support can make.


“I never - not once - saw myself where I am today, career-wise; I never thought I would reach here,” Nandipha notes. “Thankfully, there were people in my life who believed in me even when I did not - people like my PhD supervisor at UKZN, Prof Peter Ajibade, and my current supervisor, Prof Martin Onani. I guess God always has bigger plans for us.”

So where to from here?

“I would like to lead a group of research working specifically on drug discovery,” she says. “I want to continue with the research I’m currently doing - there’s still a lot of work to be done. But there’s also so many other research topics to pursue - we have a lot to discover in our labs that can be used to improve our people’s lives.”