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NRF SARChI Chairs

The South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) was established by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF). The aim is to attract and retain excellence in research and innovation at South African public universities through the establishment of Research Chairs.

The main goal of the Research Chairs initiative is to strengthen and improve research and innovation capacity of public universities for producing high-quality postgraduate students and research and innovation outputs.

The key objectives of SARChI are to:
  • Expand the scientific research and innovation capacity of South Africa.
  • Improve South Africa’s international research and innovation competitiveness while responding to the social and economic challenges of the country
  • Attract and retain excellent researchers and scientists
  • Increase the production of masters and doctoral graduates; and
  • Create research career pathways for young and mid-career researchers, with strong research, innovation, and human capital development output trajectory

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The Research Chairs at the University of the Western Cape are: 

SARChI Chair in Analytical Systems and Processes for Priority and Emerging Contaminants (ASPPEC)

The SARChI Chair in Analytical Systems and Processes for Priority and Emerging Contaminants, awarded to Prof Priscilla Baker in 2018, is geared towards measurement and monitoring of a wide range of environmental contaminants, related to the chemical transformations that results in contamination. These chemical transformations include highly specific binding reactions, electrolysis, energy efficient catalytic conversion of chemical reactants, adsorption reactions, diffusion controlled reactions and coupled chemical reactions. A recipient of the prestigious Women In Science Award, Prof Baker is co-head of UWC’s SensorLab (alongside fellow SARChI Chair Emmanuel Iwuoha) and specialises in the application of frequency-modulated electrochemical techniques that can be applied in water analysis and treatment, bio- and industrial catalysis, as well as in energy-related applications.

SARChI Chair in Bioinformatics and Human Health Genomics

Professor Alan Christoffels is the Director of the South African National Bioinformatics Institute (SANBI) at UWC, and a recipient of the Hamilton Naki Special Award, recognising his outstanding efforts to build a distinguished academic career and conduct world-class research in the face of considerable equity challenges. Since 2009, he has occupied this SARChI Chair, which focuses on public health genomics, addressing the needs of South African public health research while simultaneously addressing the national imperative to enhance quality research and teaching in science and technology. Its research activities address the development and implementation of high-throughput screening methods to prioritize biomarkers for health intervention. The research activities are centred around tuberculosis genomics research, malaria and trypanosomiasis or sleeping sickness.

SARChISA-UK Bilateral Chair in Social Protection for Food Security

The bilateral SA-UK SARChI Chair in Social Protection for Food Security is intended to be a global leader in research on food security and nutrition in Africa, and aims to promote international exchange and cooperation. Dr Stephen Devereux has held the SA-UK SARChI Chair in Social Protection for Food Security since 2016. A Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, Dr Devereux is also based at UWC’s Institute for Social Development, and affiliated to the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security. The Chair addresses questions on why food insecurity in South Africa remains so high, despite the comprehensive social protection system, and how to improve the impact of social protection on hunger.

SARChI Chair in Health Systems Complexity and Change

South African health systems are complex, and must overcome the legacies of both colonialism and apartheid. Prof Asha George of UWC’s School of Public Health has held the SARChI Chair in Health Systems Complexity and Social Change since 2016, and has the tough task of researching (from a governance, gender and human rights perspective) and reforming a system which was never set up to adequately serve the majority of the country. The Chair focuses on four streams of interlinking research: (1) gender, intersectionality and social power relations; (2) community health systems and how they are governed; (3) frontline health workers’ lived realities; and (4) multi-sectoral policy development and implementation that more holistically address social determinants within health systems.

SARChI Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS)

Professor Ruth Hall holds the South African Research Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, which is funded by the National Research Foundation. The Chair is located at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape. Professor Hall has initiated a five-year research programme (2020-2024) on dynamics of agrarian change and rural transformations in Africa. The Research Chair will include work on the character of smallholder agriculture and accumulation dynamics in agriculture and the rural non-farm economy, and will address questions of changing agro-food systems; resource access; rights and governance; land use and production; class formation; social differentiation; and the broader politics of land and agrarian reform.

The SARChI Chair in Visual History and Theory

The SARChI Chair in Visual History and Theory, awarded to Professor Patricia Hayes in 2015, explores the challenges faced in visual studies, investigating key methodological and epistemological questions, as well as issues of civil engagement and representation through popular arts or social media. Specific paradigms and postgraduate research associated with the Chair now include documentary photography; liberation struggles and the post-apartheid; digital photography in the postcolony; and photography and historical method. A scholar of African history, gender studies and visuality, Patricia Hayes began research on photography and the question of history after completing her PhD. As Chair, her starting point was to address the huge neglect of rich photographic archives in South Africa and the subcontinent in terms of historical and humanities research.

SARChI Chair in Nano-Electrochemistry and Sensor Technology (NEST)

Established in 2012, the SARChI Chair in Nano-Electrochemistry and Sensor Technology is held by Senior Chemistry Professor Emmanuel Iwuoha, co-head (along with fellow SARChI Chair Prof Priscilla Baker) of UWC’s SensorLab, which focuses on research in smart materials, electrocatalysis, sensors and electrochemical energy. The Chair’s focus is on designing ‘smart’ nanomaterials (polymeric, dendritic, graphenated and carbon nanotube composite systems). Professor Iwuoha has coordinated the National Nanoscience Postgraduate Teaching and Training Platform, an inter-university initiative offering a Master’s degree in nanoscience. He leads a research project on sensors, which aims to produce easy-to-use tools for point-of-care clinical applications, and the acquisition of data necessary for setting quality standards for priority pollutants in food, drinking water and the environment, as well as for monitoring compliance to set such standards.

FirstRand/NRF Chair in Mathematics Education

Professor Cyril Julie is a long-serving member of the Faculty of Education at UWC and now occupies the position of the FirstRand/NRF Chair in Mathematics Education. Unlike most SARChI Chairs, this Chair is not only research-based, but also has a strong developmental component, aiming to improve the skills and knowledge of maths teachers in the basic education system. Prof Julie’s interrelated research interests include elementary mathematics from an advanced point of view and advanced mathematics from an elementary point of view, and the systematic review of issues in maths teaching and learning (among others). These interests stem from the conviction that the enhancement of high-quality teaching will lead to an improvement of learning - and ultimately an improvement in maths results achieved by school learners.

SARChI Chair in Astronomy and Astrophysics

Professor Roy Maartens is an NRF A-Rated researcher (UWC’s first ever, since 2012) in UWC’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, and has championed the University’s involvement with the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). Since 2011, he has held the SKA/SARChI Chair in Astronomy and Astrophysics, and has built a team of postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers with the aim of using SKA to explore fundamental properties of the Universe. He is working on a research project using the power of the SKA pathfinders and the SKA itself to map the distribution of galaxies in the universe. With these maps, researchers aim to resolve the nature of the Dark Energy that forces the universe to expand faster and faster, a major puzzle in modern physics.

Desmond Tutu Research Chair in Religion and Social Justice

In November 2018 Professor Sarojini Nadar (NRF B rated scholar) was appointed as the Desmond Tutu Research Chair in Religion and Social Justice, under a bilateral cooperation agreement between the National Research Foundation SARChi initiative and the Lund Mission Society. Prof. Nadar graduated with a BA degree from the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 1996. Her majors were in English Literature and Religious Studies. She obtained a Bachelor of Social Science (Honours) in 1997 and her Masters of Arts in 2000 in the area of Biblical Literature, also at UCT. She obtained her PhD in 2003 at the age of 27 from the erstwhile University of Natal (now UKZN). While she was still undertaking her PhD, she was the coordinator of the International Network in Advanced Theological Education (INATE) from 2002-2005. The network was based in 8 countries and spanned five continents. In 2008, she was appointed to a permanent position as the Director of the Gender and Religion programme which she co-founded. She returned to this position in 2014 after a two-year tenure as the Dean of Research in the College of Humanities in 2012 and 2013. She was promoted to Associate Professor in 2011 and Full Professor in 2014.

SARChI Chair in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET)

Professor Joy Papier, Director of UWC’s Institute for Post-School Studies (IPSS), was appointed as the first SARChI Chair in Technical and Vocational Education and Training in 2017 to bring a new focus and impetus to the historically marginalised TVET field. The Chair recognizes the critical and poorly-understood role of post-schooling in addressing South Africa’s development needs, and is intended to guide research, teaching and social engagement regarding the challenges which inhibit South Africa’s youth and adults from reaching their full potential. The work of the Chair, Prof Papier believes, is to shine a light on student experiences of vocational education, and to focus on home-grown solutions to African TVET challenges.

SARChI Chair in Development Of Human Capabilities and Social Cohesion

Through The Family Professor Nicolette Roman heads the Child and Family Studies Programme at UWC where she specialises in individual and family psychological well-being, family functioning and practices, parenting, self-determination theory, research design and writing methods. As SARChI Chair in Development Of Human Capabilities and Social Cohesion Through The Family, a position she was awarded in 2018, her initial focus will be to investigate, explore and understand the status quo and the pathways between the variables both internal and external to the family. That information will be integrated in order to develop guidelines for enhancing human capabilities and social cohesion through the family. The target participants will be the individuals (across the lifespan), family (as a group), policies and stakeholders (including programme implementers, professionals, government).

SARChI Chair in Cosmology with Multi-Wavelength Data

Prof. Mario Santos was appointed as the SARChI Chair in Cosmology with Multi-Wavelength Data on 1 January 2018. He completed his Master’s in Physics/Mathematics at the University of Cambridge in 1999 and went on to complete his PhD in Physics at the University of Oxford in 2002. He then took a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Davis and IST, Lisbon, before becoming a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Lisbon. He is currently a Full Professor at the University of the Western Cape. Prof. Santos is directly involved with surveys using MeerKAT and is a member of the HERA experiment as well as SKA1-MID and SKA1-LOW working groups. He is the former chair of the international SKA Cosmology Science Working Group, and is currently a member of the SARAO Users Committee and the Director of the Centre for Radio Cosmology.

SARChI Chair in Waste and Society

Prof Catherina Schenck of UWC’s Social Work Department took up the SARChI Chair in Waste and Society in 2018. The Chair, one of South Africa's first ever research chairs on waste management, is aimed at transforming the sector while contributing to the country's socio-economic development. The Chair will be researching and exploring: (1) Job opportunities in the waste economy and waste value chain that can improve livelihoods through the transition away from landfilling; (2) Business models to support a secondary resources economy, with a particular focus on SMMEs; (3) Strategies towards behaviour change towards waste prevention, reuse, and recycling. Further, Prof Schenck will also facilitate the development and growth of researchers and research capacity in the broad field of waste and society.

SARChI Chair in Health Systems Governance

Prof Schneider is a medical doctor, public health specialist and health systems and policy researcher at the UWC School of Public Health who has worked for more than 20 years on the problematics of South Africa’s health system - making her the ideal choice for the SARChI Chair in Health Systems Governance. The Chair, which she has held since 2015, aims to develop scholarship in the area of health sector governance, with a focus on the South African health system. The specific intention is to explore the micro-practices of governance and accountability within local / district health services. and undertake comparative analyses of governance between South Africa and other developing countries. The overarching goal is to promote equity and social justice in South Africa and beyond

SARChI Chair in Multi-Level Government, Law and Development (MLG)

The SARChI Chair for Multi-Level Government, Law and Development was instituted at UWC in 2012, and is held by Professor Nico Steytler, former Director of the Dullah Omar Institute (DOI). The research focus of this Chair is on current societal questions, among them public safety and the role of the judiciary in multilevel government, which includes a high-level dialogue between leading politicians and international experts. Professor Steytler has been involved in the development of the new constitutional order for the past decade. He has not only researched South Africa’s multi-level system of governance, but also helped to produce policy papers on many aspects of governance. He also continues to play a leadership role In the international arena.

SARChI Chair in Observational RadioAstronomy

The SARChI Chair in Observational RadioAstronomy, held by A-rated scientist Prof Russ Taylor, is co-hosted by the SKA, UWC and the University of Cape Town. Prof Taylor has extensive expertise in radio astronomy, in particular wide-field polarization, cosmic magnetism and Big Data, and has played a prominent role in the SKA project since its inception. Prof Taylor was also one of the founding international SKA project scientists and co-authored the first SKA science case. He represented Canada as one of the national members on the SKA Organization Board. Nowadays he is concentrating on big data, managing the challenge of the massive datasets generated by MeerKAT and the SKA as the director for the Inter-University Institute for Data-Intensive Astronomy (IDIA).

SARChI Chair in Nuclear Physics

Professor Smarajit Triambak joined the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UWC from the University of Delhi, India, as the first SARChI Chair in Nuclear Physics in 2013. His research expertise is in the field of accelerator-based, low-energy experimental nuclear physics, most of which revolves around measurements of observables with high accuracy and precision. These investigations, mostly in the sub-fields of weak interactions and nuclear astrophysics, are used to probe for and set stringent limits on hitherto unknown physics, beyond the standard model – an approach that is complementary to high-energy collider experiments. The research chair has enabled Prof Triambak to take his students to world-renowned facilities inside South Africa and beyond.

SARChI Chair in Microbial Genomics

The Institute for Microbial Biotechnology and Metagenomics (IMBM) hosts the DST/NRF SARChI Research Chair in Microbial Genomics, held since 2014 by IMBM Director - and Distinguished Young Woman Scientist Award winner - Professor Marla Trindade. The Chair’s major research focus is to use high-throughput and metagenomic technologies to directly access all microbial genomes in any given environment, from the viruses inhabiting human skin to the extremophiles found in environments too hot, salty or otherwise inhospitable for other life. These will enable the exploration of all information and data that microorganisms can offer biotechnology and present infinite bioprospecting possibilities. Prof Trindade’s research interest is not only in viruses and bacteria on a microscopic level, but in using the genetic information of viruses and other microorganisms in useful real-world applications.