The Africa-Arab State 2009 L’Oreal-Unesco Award for Women in Science recipient and Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Nanotechnology, Tebello Nyokong, has been honoured by her own institution for her outstanding scholarly reputation and productivity.
Rhodes University officially conferred the title of Distinguished Professor on Professor Nyokong for her academic excellence and productivity at its recent Graduation ceremony.
Dr Peter Clayton, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Development, said Prof Nyokong is widely regarded not only as a Rhodes University and national treasure, but these days also as a continental icon.
She is passionate about passing on knowledge. Her students are her life, as is evidenced by the number of PhD and MSc graduates she supervised over the years.
“What Prof Nyokong has achieved in scholarly terms is quite staggering, as assessed by volume, impact, and influence of her work nationally and internationally. She literally oozes passion for science – doing it, teaching it, promoting it, financing it, and applying it,” said Dr Clayton.
“Her research outputs are amongst the highest of any individual in South Africa, and the contribution to the scholarly reputation of Rhodes is immense. Her individual contribution to accredited outputs at Rhodes number 34.7 per year on average,” added Dr Clayton.
Prof Nyokong is currently pioneering research into photodynamic therapy which looks at harnessing light for cancer therapy and environmental clean-up. Photodynamic therapy (PDT) uses specially developed dyes to direct deadly light onto cancer cells, and is being researched all over the world as an alternative to chemotherapy.
The dye is injected into the bloodstream or applied directly to the skin. PDT is combined with quantum dots (QD), which are nanoparticles that absorb and then re-emit light, thus enabling scientists to target the cancer cells with red light and allowing for an efficient cancer treatment involving the photosensitization and imaging of these QD to kill the cancer cells.
These dyes have been developed primarily overseas and Prof Nyokong said that more research is needed to establish which dyes are most efficient in the harsh African sunlight. “Any amount of the drug on healthy tissue (such as the skin) is affected by even the smallest amount of sunlight, even indoors,” she said.
Another aspect of Prof Nyokong’s research is pollution control. One of the methods for the purification of water is photochemical destruction of pollutants (such as chlorinate phenols and other pesticides) using ultraviolet light.
She has received numerous accolades and awards from national organisations, industry, the State President, international bodies, and honorary doctorates from other universities.
Amongst the huge number of acknowledgements that recognise her immense contribution, and the international leadership role that she plays, are the 2010 CEO’s Most Influential Women in the Education and Teaching Sector, being inducted in 2010 into the Vodacom Lesotho Hall of Fame, named in 2011 as the RSC (Royal Society in Chemistry)/ PACN (Pan African Chemistry Network) International Distinguished Women in Chemistry, and in 2011 she was invited by the UNESCO Director-General to sit on the newly announced UNESCO High Panel on Science, Technology and Innovation for Development.
In April this year, she was included in the exhibition of the National Center for Research on Human Evolution, Spain, as one of the 12 Names To Change The World.