Categorized | Health

Free State researcher scoops prestigious ICT award


The innovative use of information and communication technology (ICT) to accurately predict drought-stricken environments has proved to be a winning formula for a young Free State researcher.

Dr Muthoni Masinde walked away with top honours at the annual Women in Science Awards (WISA) of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), which were held on Thursday in Johannesburg.

Dr Masinde, who obtained her PhD from the University of Cape Town in 2012, currently works as a senior lecturer and head of ICT at the Central University of Technology in the Free State.

For her PhD, Dr Masinde developed a novel tool that accurately predicts droughts. The tool taps into African indigenous knowledge of natural disasters and augments it with ICT such as artificial intelligence, wireless sensor networks and mobile phones. This contribution was recognised by the International Telecommunications Union and emerged in the top five in the Union’s Green ICT Application Challenge.

Dr Masinde’s contribution to drought forecasting solutions for the Free State was recently featured on the BBC World Service, and led to the establishment of a unit at the Central University of Technology where she teaches, for research on informatics for drought in Africa.

With research and teaching experience spanning 16 years, Dr Masinde was named the winner in the category of Distinguished Young Women Researchers: Research and Innovation, earning R75 000 for advancing science and building knowledge.

Recognising excellence

Passionate about using science for the community, Prof Vhonani Netshandama is this year’s winner in the Distinguished Women Researchers in the Humanities and Social Sciences Category. She also received R75 000 for using science to empower others.

Prof Netshandama was the initial facilitator of the establishment of Mukondeni Filter Factory, a water filter factory. This was a spin-off collaborative project of the University of Virginia, UniVen and Mukondeni Pottery near Elim in Limpopo, where the Mukondeni potters were trained to make ceramic water filters.

Recently, she completed a community-based design study to assess the acceptability of a nipple shield for the administration of medication to infants.

While it may take a few more years to get the product to market, the strength of Prof Netshandama’s contribution is her insistence on taking time to engage care-givers and mothers in rural areas to give input into the design of the nipple shield.

Emerging young scientist, Caroline Pule, walked away with a R60 000 Tata Scholarship for her research into TB, focusing on understanding the physiology of drug-resistant and tolerant TB strains and how these bacteria modulate the host response in the context of the macrophage infection model. Pule won a DST doctoral fellowship in 2014.


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