2011 is the International Year of Chemistry. This integral scientific discipline attracts a broad array of bright and passionate scientists, but as a career it is hugely challenging and demanding. In order to stay up-to-date one really has to dedicate one’s life to the discipline. As a field of study it requires not only rigorous devotion but also insurmountable patience and perseverance.
The entrenched structures of our patriarchal society often result in women assuming roles of home-makers and child-minders, but does this tendency exclude women from following careers in Chemistry? How possible is it to balance the rigours of professional science with the full-time vocation of running a family?
The South African government has done much to even the playing fields and has been instrumental in encouraging
South African women to pursue such careers, through grants, scholarships and research trusts.
Rhodes University is blessed by the presence of some truly inspirational women scientists, who have, despite all odds, soared to remarkable heights in the world of Chemistry.
Professor Tobello Nyokong is one such legend who has a humble rural background, and managed, through intelligence, drive and sheer tenacity, to reach a prestigious position as Professor of Chemistry at Rhodes University.
A compassionate educator and charismatic leader, Prof Nyokong inspires and empowers as she teaches her protégés. She is also the deserving recipient of a much sought-after B rating within the scientific community’s peer review system.
Nyokong follows in the footsteps of legendary female Chemists of yore such as Marie Curie, twice Nobel Prize laureate and mother and grandmother to other acclaimed scientists. Curie’s prize for Chemistry was awarded exactly 100 years ago in 1911, thus the international year of chemistry is a historically pertinent opportunity to encourage enthusiasm for science in young women, and facilitate the pursuit of careers in this exciting field.
Many eloquent words of wisdom have been uttered on why equality in the sciences is so essential, especially considering the immense challenges faced by humanity in modern times, be they social, political or environmental:
“We must believe in ourselves or no one else will believe in us. … The world cannot afford the loss of the talents of half of its people if we are to solve the many problems which beset us." Rosalyn Yalow (Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine 1977)
“…equality would double the intellectual force of mankind” – Stendhal