Record number of postgraduates for SU’s Faculty of Science

home_logo_engWith topics ranging from a new hypothesis to explain the formation of the earth’s crust, to a novel process for extracting pure gold from industrial waste streams, the Faculty of Science at Stellenbosch University has reason to be proud of a further 30 PhD-students graduating in March.

This means a record number of 263 postgraduate students received honours (134), masters (72) and doctoral degrees (57) in the fields of biochemistry, botany and zoology, chemistry and polymer science, earth sciences, mathematical sciences, microbiology, physics and physiological sciences in 2012.

From the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science, Dr Eugene Lakay developed new polymeric nanoparticles with ion-exchange properties to extract up to 99% of the gold from waste streams in the precious metal refining industry. According to co-supervisor, Prof Bert Klumperman, a patent has been registered on the material and process, and the next step will be to get it into a user-friendly format for industrial use.

Under the guidance of Prof Gary Stevens, who holds the South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI) research chair in Experimental Petrology in the Department of Earth Sciences, Dr Angelique Laurie developed a new hypothesis to explain the creation of the earth’s continental crust about 2.5 billion years ago. The experiments were performed in special autoclaves at the SU’s Central Analytical Facility to replicate the extreme pressures and temperature conditions typical of that time, and then combined with modelling expertise from Europe.

According to Prof Stevens they are now very close to a complete understanding of how the continental crust formed. “As humans we are deeply fascinated with the origins and evolution of our planet and life on it. Understanding how and when the first continental crust formed is a very important part of this understanding as it shaped weather systems and planetary geochemical systems. It would have created new niches within which life could evolve,” he explains.

Ronalda Benjamin 003

Ronalda Benjamin

Another shining star at the March graduation ceremony is Ronalda Benjamin who will receive her Master’s degree in Mathematics with distinction. In 2010 she received the Rector’s Award for Succeeding Against the Odds for her outstanding performance regardless of difficult personal circumstances. Ronalda is the first person in her family who has had the opportunity to study further, and she has already started working on her PhD dissertation in the field of functional analysis.