Clean sweep for SU female scientists

From left, Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane,

In a first for Stellenbosch University (SU), three of the institution’s eminent female scientists made a clean sweep in the same category at the annual South African Women in Science Awards (WISA) ceremony in Polokwane last week.

Dr Evodia Setati, from the Institute for Wine Biotechnology, was a winner in the category: Distinguished Woman Researchers in Natural (Life and Physical) and Engineering Sciences, while Professor Karen Esler, from the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology, and Professor Soraya Bardien, from the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics, finished second and third respectively.

The annual WISA ceremony was part of the Department of Science and Technology’s celebration of Women’s Month. The theme for 2018 was leveraging science, technology and innovation to enhance inclusive growth and development. The awards recognise and reward excellence by women scientists and researchers, and profile them as role models for younger women.

A senior research at the Institute for Wine Biotechnology in the Department of Viticulture and Oenology, Dr Setati won the award for her work on the microbial ecology of the vineyard and wine fermentation ecosystem and how this is influenced by farming practices.

Her research have contributed to an improved understanding of the South African vineyard and wine fermentation microbiome and its possible contribution to wine chemical and sensorial properties.

Dr Setati said the award “is a sign of progression, it means I am finally reaping the fruits of my labour and for my work it means more exposure to potential collaborators especially from historically disadvantaged institutions. It is an important recognition for the relevance and impact of my research.” Rated by the National Research Foundation (NRF), she published a number of peer-reviewed articles in leading international journals and also supervised many postgraduate students.

She is a member of the South African Society of Microbiology as well as the South African Society for Enology and Viticulture, a commissioner on the International Commission for Yeasts, a trustee on the Pioneer Foods Education and Community Trust, and a sub-editor on the South African Journal for Enology and Viticulture.

Professor Esler was honoured for her research excellence in ecology including ecosystem restoration and invasion biology.

Also a NRF-rated researcher, she is considered a world leader in her field and has supervised many postgraduate students.

“I feel privileged to be counted among the winners. Research is rewarding and exciting and if I can continue to promote women in higher education by providing a role model to others, I’d be satisfied,” she said.

Professor Esler has authored or co-authored more than 160 peer reviewed journal publications and also boasts a few books and book chapters. She has received awards from, among others, the Agricultural Economics Association of South Africa, Water Research Commission, and the South African National Biodiversity Institute.

She is the African Associate Editor for a top conservation journal Conservation Biology and currently serves as a Review Editor for the Intergovernmental science-policy platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service’s (IPBES) global assessment.

She is also the long-running South African representative on the International Society for Mediterranean Ecology. Professor Esler was the first woman president of the South African Association of Botanists.

Internationally recognised for her research on Parkinson’s disease, Professor Bardien received an award for her work on the genetic causes and mechanism underlying this condition in South African patients. She is also a NRF-rated researcher who has published extensively in prestigious peer-reviewed journals and supervised many postgraduate students.

She is the chair of the Southern African Society for Human Genetics, and serves on the steering committee of the Southern African Human Genome Programme, the committee of the African Society of Human Genetics, and served on the Specialist Committee of National Research Foundation for rating South African researchers: Health Sciences.