(Published - 13 September 2019)
Dr Fanelwa Ajayi, Senior Lecturer in Physical Chemistry at the University of the Western Cape, is one of two recipients of the prestigious 2019 National Research Foundation Emerging Researcher (or Early Career) Award.
She received the award last night for her groundbreaking work at UWC’s SensorLab in the field of TB/HIV drugs metabolism enzyme electroactive sensor development and green nanotechnology.
"The best emerging researchers are characterised by their energy, enthusiasm and commitment to excellence,” says Prof Michael Davies-Coleman, Dean of UWC’s Faculty of Natural Sciences. “Dr Ajayi has all these qualities and more - she epitomises the future leadership in science in South Africa, and is undoubtedly a role model for future young women scientists from the marginalised communities of Cape Town.”
Dr Ajayi has received remarkable recognition recently for her work both locally and internationally. She was a member of the South African winning team at the 2017 United States of America (USA) Department of States TechWomen Programme, and was identified as one of the South African 2018 Inspiring Fifty Women in Technology - the same year she was elected to the Young Academy of Science of South Africa. And just last month she was selected for the Next Einstein Forum’s 2019-2021 Fellows cohort, a platform for some of Africa’s most brilliant young scientists to help solve Africa’s most pressing challenges.
“I’m very happy with the recognition - and even more happy that the University of the Western Cape trusted me and nominated me for this award,” Dr Ajayi says. “I’m also grateful for the funding I’ve received from the National Research Foundation throughout my tenured career - and in particular the Thuthuka Funding, which mainly gives funding to young researchers, and especially women in science.”
Two of UWC’s finest were also recognised as A-rated scientists at the NRF Awards, for their internationally-respected and field-transforming work. Extraordinary Professor of English David Attwell received recognition for his work in postcolonial studies: postcolonial theory, anglophone African writing, South African literature, and theories and practices of cultural translation. And Professor of Chemistry, Emmanuel Iwuoha, SARChI Chair in Nano-Electrochemistry and Sensor Technology and co-head of the SensorLab, was acknowledged as a world leader in designing ‘smart’ nanomaterials for use as sensors in a range of environments.
Ensuring the Future of Science
“It’s important to encourage our young and enthusiastic emerging researchers to experiment and innovate - and to honour them as well, because they are role models that our postgraduate students will want to emulate,” says Prof Davies-Coleman. “It is critical for the future of this country that our research community is continually renewed and reinvigorated with the emergence of young researchers like Dr Ajayi.”
Dr Ajayi agrees - she’s also passionate about taking quality science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education to learners in marginalised and academically disadvantaged communities. As the founder and leader of the non-profit organisation, AmaQawe ngeMfundo, she aims to change the negative stereotypes about STEM at township schools, and she helped establish KasiMaths, a scalable, low-cost mathematics HUB for learners in marginalised communities.
“I encourage young people to choose the natural sciences as their career, because there’s so much they can accomplish this way,” she says. “Apart from providing them with a platform to be exposed to onsite experiments, we also educate them about the importance of solving their immediate issues using science.”
“As emerging researchers, we have a duty to the community. We have a duty to the next generation of emerging researchers. Who will inform them? Who will train them? Who will inspire the science in them?” she asks.
“So I think it’s a duty - not just for myself, but also for the rest of South Africa - to make sure that the future of education, and the future of science, lives forever. I intend to encourage as many young people as possible to pursue their dreams and to find workable solutions for issues dear to their hearts.”