Records tumble for Rhodes prof


Internationally renowned Rhodes University medicinal chemistry and nanotechnology expert Professor Tebello Nyokong and her students have been praised for their publication of 63 peer reviewed papers in one year.

University vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela said the 63 papers, which equated to five a month, were a “spectacular accomplishment” that further cemented her position as a global leader in her field.

He said the reviews appeared in high- impact journal publications and far exceeded her 2014 record when 50 papers were published.

“These are quite staggering numbers, that represent the intellectual influence of this scholarly voice that we have at Rhodes University.”

Mabizela praised Lesotho-born Nyokong for placing students at the centre of her work by giving them the space to develop and grow as researchers and scholars.

“You are an undisputed leader in your field of research, we burst with pride in your remarkable achievement.”

He said their previous record of 50 papers was a “superhuman achievement” that he doubted would be beaten at the time.

According to Mabizela, if all academics could produce “just one or two” peer reviewed articles a year the university would not have to worry about financial sustainability.

He said there were many academics who could not achieve a third of her record year output in their lifetime.

“I hope others take a leaf out of this phenomenal book Professor Nyokong and her students have written.”

Ever-modest Nyokong, who is a distinguished professor and has won several top South African, African and international awards over the years, said it took a whole village to do research.

The 65-year-old academic praised university staff – from the person who makes tea to management – her students and facilities at the institution for her success.

“It is all about the students, we cannot run away from that.”

Nyokong said the creation of new knowledge among young scientists was the key to success. “I believe in training students to be responsible, efficient and reliable leaders of South Africa and beyond.”

According to Nyokong, the university’s nanotechnology unit was one of the best in the world and attracted the top brains to come and do research there that would help solve challenges facing South Africa and the rest of the world.

Conversely, Rhodes students were also working at laboratories all over the world.

“Where possible I send students to laboratories internationally for short periods. This makes them realise that science is the same in South Africa as in the developed world.

“They come back loving their country.”

She said it was common in natural sciences for students to work in the same area as supervisors and projects ranged from developing cancer treatment drugs to using nanotechnology in medicine to prevent damage to pilots’ eyes from laser attacks.

“They chose the area of research and we work together in developing their writing and essential skills. We are a team, but I am strict on discipline… no one can be late for any meeting.”

She said government had developed policies which understood the importance of research and this had helped establish a world class nanotechnology facility at Rhodes.

Nyokong said she believed in training students to be responsible, efficient and reliable leaders of South Africa and beyond.

Deputy vice-chancellor and academic, Dr Peter Clayton, said there were few people walking the planet with the intellectual track record of Nyokong.

“We are hugely proud of this record contribution to the intellectual output of the university, country and continent … it is huge.” —

DREAM TEAM: Internationally acclaimed Rhodes University scientist Professor Tebello Nyokong and her record-breaking students who published a staggering 63 peer reviewed journal articles in top international publications last year Picture: CATHERINE DEINER