Scifest in the Chemistry Department
As has been the case for the past few years, we opened the first year lab for titration workshops during Scifest. The aim is to give teachers and learners the opportunity to experience a “proper” laboratory situation and do curriculumbased practical work. For many it was an opportunity to handle chemical equipment for the first time, since their schools are not equipped. The workshops proved very popular, more so than in previous years, and we had to extend our times to accommodate all. Approximately 250 learners and educators took part in these workshops, and they came from as far afield as Libode, East London, and Pretoria.
When the teachers from Libode arrived a day early for the workshops, they wrote a note, saying, “I am interested in your free workshops you conducted last year at your Laboratory. Kindly give our learners another chance this year. (They don’t know the laboratory and never touch anything in the lab).” When asked what they had learnt at the workshop, a learner commented, “How to be more patient with experiments and to be on point with measurements.”
Renowned Chemistry Professor Visits Rhodes
Renowned Wits University Chemistry Professor, Neil Coville recently visited Rhodes University as a Barker Lecturer. Professor Coville was here to give the Barker lectures to post graduate students and staff. Coville, an Emeritus Professor at the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg said that this trip to the Eastern Cape and to Rhodes University also meant that he was visiting Grahamstown for the very first time in his life, something he said he was very happy about.
He said, “I am really happy to have been asked by Rhodes University to come down here and give these lectures to these exciting young minds in the chemistry fraternity. I am also very grateful that I got to come to Grahamstown for the very first time.” Coville, a Synthetic chemist, said that even though the Rhodes University Chemistry department was smaller in comparison to theirs at Wits University he found the environment ‘very much alive’. “The environment here is just out of this world, and when it comes to equipment they have in their disposal I am really impressed,” he said in his ‘visiting professor’s office at the department. Coville also said he was really honoured to have been invited to give lectures after one of the most respected chemists, Corry Barker. “To have been invited to do the Barker lectures is really an honour to me because this man was a giant in this field. It really sort of humbles you,” he said before admitting that even though he didn’t know much about the man he had done some research on him and he had great respect for him.
In his many years in academia Coville has had many honorary appointments both in domestic universities and outside the country in countries like Ethiopia and many others. The well travelled professor and former Head of the Chemistry Department at Wits University said that he still enjoys mentoring the young minds of the future chemists, especially when they really show a desire to chemistry and have the required curiosity towards chemistry. When asked what the future was like to future chemists Professor Coville said that the future was bright for hard workers in the industry. “The future really does look bright in the industry, but again it needs very committed people who also something to offer to it (the industry),” he said emphasising the need for hard work.
Recently, amidst great excitement, an Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (EPR) spectrometer(Bruker) was installed in the NIC ? Sensors under Prof Nyokong’s directorship.
Earlier, an X-ray Photoelectron Spectrometer, weighing in at 2 tons, was installed. The EPR magnet was a measly 1 ton! These pieces are in addition to the BET (Brunauer Emmett Teller)Physisorption Analyser, DTG 60H dual DTG/TG Thermal analyser and Scanning Electrochemical Microscope (SECM), also installed in the last year.
The NIC?Sensors also holds a MALDI - TOF mass spectrometer, a Raman instrument, and an X Ray powder Diffractometer – making Rhodes University one of the best equipped Universities in the world.
Mrs Sewry on Sabbatical
Mrs Joyce Sewry has a passion for education and outreach and during her sabbatical in 2011 was able to spend time working from home and abroad in both of these areas
The main focus of her education research was to analyse scripts of the 2009 NSC Mathematics papers 1&2 as well as the Physical Science papers 1&2 from schools in the Grahamstown district.
The aim of the project was to identify areas of difficulty in these papers in order to feed the information back to the teachers and to report to Umalusi. Unfortunately, most of the candidates did extremely poorly, so no area stood out as being much more difficult than any other.
She also spent three weeks with Prof Sewry travelling in New Zealand and Australia. Research is not always about being in a lab!
Research Milestone Reached
For the first time in the history of the Department the staff and students published over 50 peer reviewed research papers in a single year, including a truly exceptional contribution of 39 research papers from the Nyokong research group. Our vibrant postgraduate research programme is central to our research endeavours and in 2007 thirty eight post-doctoral, PhD, MSc and Honours students carried out research in a variety of fields including electrochemistry, photochemistry, nanotechnology, inorganic and organic synthesis, thermal analysis and theoretical and marine natural product chemistry.
The cultural diversity of our postgraduate student body is another key to our research success with our students originating from all corners of our continent including Lesotho, Namibia, Nigeria and Zimbabwe and even from further afield e.g. Chile.
THOSE WHO UNDERSTAND TEACH! Every year the Chemistry Department hosts a visiting lecturer for a week in memory of Professor William Francis Barker former Professor of Chemistry in the Rhodes Chemistry Department (1925 –1961). The Barker Lecturer for 2008 was Professor Bette Davidowitz from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cape Town. Professor Davidowitz, a recent winner of UCT’s distinguished teaching award, is well known for her innovative research into chemistry education. Professor Davidowitz delivered a thought provoking public lecture entitled “Those who understand teach: Improving teaching and learning in chemistry.” In her lecture Professor Davidowitz provided clear evidence from her research of the crucial importance of tutorials in enhancing the understanding of chemistry in general, and organic chemistry in particular. She intrigued the audience with a comparative overview of the general lack of understanding of some key chemistry principles by first-year students at different South African universities. She also highlighted an innovative approach to enhancing chemistry practical work by requiring students to prepare flow diagrams before doing laboratory practicals. For the first time in many years the Barker Lecture was attended by a large number of Grahamstown’s teaching fraternity and Professor Davidowitz was in much demand with eager teachers at the cocktail party which followed her lecture.
Conrad Cambray Remembered
Eight years ago a remarkably gifted Rhodes student, Conrad Cambray, was tragically killed in a road accident outside Grahamstown. To honour the memory of this outstanding young Grahamstown man and to celebrate his life and numerous achievements, the Conrad Dylan Cambray Award Fund was set up by Conrad’s family and by Rhodes University to give the opportunity for other very talented students to fulfill their potential at Rhodes. The scholarship (which covers a year’s tuition fees) is awarded annually to a deserving undergraduate Science student who is studying Chemistry and either Biochemistry or Microbiology.
The 2008 Conrad Dylan Cambray Award was presented by Conrad’s brother Garth, to Amy Kenyon a third-year student majoring in Chemistry and Biochemistry. Amy is the daughter of two old Rhodians, Colin and Carol Kenyon.
Chemistry Department benefits from Scifest Africa
The 2008 National Science Festival (Scifest Africa) bought several prominent national and international chemists to Grahamstown. Three of the visiting chemists spent some time in the Department of Chemistry interacting with the staff and post graduate students. Dr Stephen Ashworth of the Department of Chemistry, University of East Anglia, in addition to his Scifest Africa lecture eries, set aside time to work with Professor Nyokong’s research group and present a research lecture to the Department. A graduate of the Oxford University, Dr Ashworth’s research interests include the use of photodynamic therapy in cancer research and high resolution spectroscopy.
Professor Dudley Shallcross of the University of Bristol was another visitor to the Chemistry Department. Professor Shallcross is also a graduate of Oxford University with research interests in atmospheric pressure and a passion for chemistry outreach. He was accompanied by the first School Teacher Fellow appointed at a British university, Mr Tim Harrison, and their lecture series entitled a “Pollutants Tale” was a popular addition to this year’s Scifest Africa programme. While in the Department, Professor Shallcross and Mr Harrison enthused the staff and students about the opportunities for chemistry outreach in Grahamstown’s schools and less privileged communities based on the successful models and systems already in place at the University of Bristol. The Department of Chemistry is grateful to Scifest Africa for the opportunity the Festival provides for initiating new collaborations and projects in research chemistry and chemistry outreach.
Car wax entrepreneurs clean up opposition!
Each year SASOL donates a prize of R1000 to the best second year entrepreneurial project in the Chemistry Department. Over the last ten years this prize has provoked intense competition amongst the teams of students who vie with one another to produce a commercially exploitable household chemical product.
The projects are initially chosen for the student teams by the Chemistry staff. In addition to conceptualising the projects the staff act as mentors for the student teams, assisting them over some of the chemical hurdles encountered along the way. In addition lecturers from the Centre of Entrepreneurship provide several valuable lectures on team-work and the economic aspects of setting up a small business. Fired up with entrepreneurial enthusiasm the students quickly set about using their initiative, basic chemical knowledge and ingenuity to conquer the challenge set before them. This year, the six teams were tasked with producing and “marketing” one of the following products; a car polish and wax, household cleaner, dishwashing liquid, a washing powder, a bleach and a carpet shampoo. After the now traditional highly entertaining “product launch” the fabric softener team comprising Marcell Louzada, Nomasonto Rapulenyane, Matthew Coombes, Helen Wilson, Mpho Ledwaba, Manelisi Mdze and Vuyo Sileku were declared the 2008 winner of the SASOL Chemistry II Entrepreneurial prize.
Chemistry Graduation 2008
The 2008 graduation saw a series of “firsts”. It was the first graduation party organised by the new Head of Department, Professor Mike Davies-Coleman; it was also an evening cocktail party, sponsored by Merck, Elabtec and Bruker, with everyone wearing academic dress, and there were some new awards.
Professor Davies-Coleman paid tribute to his predecessor, Professor Perry Kaye, and the incredible contribution he has made to the Department during his tenure of 15 years as HOD. Professor Kaye has an outstanding research and teaching record – during his career he was awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Senior Research medal, as well as the Vice-Chancellor’s Teaching medal. As is tradition when an HOD retires, a photograph of Professor Kaye was unveiled at the occasion.
Chemistry Graduate Heads for Harvard
Rhodes chemistry MSc graduate Eloise Marais leaves at the end of August to start her PhD studies at Harvard University outside Boston, USA. Ms Marais, who has a BSc Honours degree from UKZN and an MSc degree from Rhodes (both cum laude) is a recipient of a 2008 prestigious Fulbright PhD Scholarship. “The Fulbright scholarship has opened the most amazing academic doors for me and I was privileged to be flown twice this year to the USA for interviews, firstly, to CALTECH outside Los Angeles and more recently to Harvard. Although I was successful with both interviews, the visit to Harvard really made up my mind between the two university options which I had initially selected. Harvard is an incredible university with a rich academic tradition” Eloise commented. She will be joining Professor Daniel Jacob’s research group at the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard. Professor Jacob is a world leader in atmospheric chemistry research and his research group currently focuses on computationally modelling the chemistry of global warming and examining changes in the chemistry of the atmosphere caused by pollution. The impact of global climate change on all our lives is what has inspired Ms Marais to study this increasingly important aspect of chemistry in the USA. “Sadly, there are no opportunities to study for a PhD degree in atmospheric chemistry here in South Africa. Once I graduate with my PhD in five years time I believe the world’s attention will be even more focussed on the quality of our atmosphere and I hope to be able to return to South Africa in 2013 well-prepared to make a difference,” she said.
Chemistry Department Builds Kenyan Research Links
Dr Josiah Ouma from Egerton University situated near Nakuru in the Kenyan Rift Valley recently visited Head of Department and fellow natural products chemist Professor Mike Davies-Coleman in the Department of Chemistry. During his visit Dr Ouma was able to access the advanced analytical facilities available in the Chemistry Department to investigate the natural products from a Kenyan mushroom which his research group has shown can be used to kill malaria mosquito larvae. Commenting on Dr Ouma’s visit Professor Davies-Coleman said, “We are hoping to build on what was accomplished during Dr Ouma’s visit and establish formal natural product research collaborative ties between our two Universities. Interestingly, the Dean of Science at Egerton, Dr Moses Rotich, is a former Rhodes chemistry PhD graduate and it is always good to re-establish contacts with our graduates in academic leadership positions in other parts of Africa”.