New HMF EucXylo Research Chair Contract Signed

The the new Hans Merensky Research Chair in Advanced Modelling of Eucalyptus Wood Formation, or “EucXylo” has officially started!  The contract formalizing the start of the new 10-year initiative was signed on Friday 17th May 2019 by Dr Khotso Mokhele (President of the Board of Trustees of the Hans Merensky Foundation) (front left) and Prof Eugene Cloete (Vice Rector, Research and Development at SU) (front right).

The new Research Chair, in keeping with the inspiring legacy of Dr Hans Merensky, contributes to an important area of science: how trees form wood.  The global significance of the process of wood formation in trees cannot be under-estimated.  Wood formation is fundamental to the fixing of carbon dioxide into a stable, valuable and beautiful material, and to the ongoing production of increasingly important renewable timber resources.  To this end, the main scientific objective of the EucXylo Chair is to develop an evolving, inter-connected set models of wood formation (xylogenesis) in the important genus Eucalyptus (commonly known as “gum trees”), arguably the world’s most widely planted hardwood tree.  A range of projects led by post-graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and academics, will use cutting edge, high precision measurement techniques, combined with intensive sampling and laboratory analyses, to answer important questions about the Eucalyptus wood formation system.  These insights will be the basis by which researchers in the project continually build and improve predictive models at multiple scales.  The models will be incorporated into a software-based simulation framework, which is envisaged to become a platform for scientific collaboration and the generation of new hypotheses and ideas within South Africa and around the world.

The lead researcher will be Dr David Drew, Senior Lecturer in the SU Department of Forest and Wood Science (DFWS) (back left).  Dr Drew will collaborate closely with scientists from across the faculties of Agrisciences and Science at SU, and with a number of leading international researchers.  In the first five-year phase of the Research Chair, six post-graduate students (M.Sc. and PhD) will be funded along with at least two postdoctoral fellows.  The Chair will also co-fund new laboratory and research facilities and a new technical position within the DFWS, to support the research activities at the level which will be required.  It is planned that the first students will start in 2020.


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