Pretoria — South African women, whose work in the scientific field has helped change their communities, were recently acknowledged when the Department of Science and Technology (DST) Minister Naledi Pandor presented them with certificates and awards replete with prize money of up to R170 000.
The Women in Science Awards seek to honour and acknowledge the country's women's achievements in the field of science and research. The department has held the event since 2003.
The categories included DST Fellowship for Masters and doctorate students, distinguished women scientists and distinguished young women scientists.
Speaking at the awards ceremony in Centurion on Friday night, Pandor said the awards have become a remarkable feature of South Africa's celebration of Women's Month and achievement made by women in the predominantly male dominated field of science.
"Many of us have a very esoteric view of science and really do not always make the link that it definitely has answers to many of the challenges that our societies have to address," Pandor said.
She called on women scientist to focus on rural areas and use science to make a difference to women who are vulnerable.
"For our part as government, we really are cantering science and technology in the thought of policy action of South Africa, so we are really thrilled we have been able to recognise remarkable women who are doing research and innovation, which has begun to make a significant contribution to the development of rural women," Pandor said.
Speaking of their research, all the awardees said their focus was on using science to change the lives of people in their communities.
Professor Relebohile Moletsane, who walked away with the prestigious Distinguished Woman Scientist Award (physical and engineering) has published several articles and book chapters on using digital technology and digital story telling in rural communities with the focus on HIV education. She said her goal was to ensure that vulnerable societies had all the necessary information about HIV and Aids and how the disease operates.
Dr Rapela Maphanga from the University of Limpopo won the Distinguished Young Women Scientist Award for her research on computer simulations of energy-storage device materials. She has published her research findings on high profile scientific journals and is a junior associate at the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Italy. Maphanga has supervised to completion one PhD student, four masters and six honours students at her university.
Speaking of her research, she said: "I believe that the solution for most of our problems lies in science so my aim is to make the little contribution that I can to achieve change and development in our communities".
In the students' category, most prizes on the night seemed to go the way of the University of Cape Town. At least seven of the 10 awards in this category went to UCT science students, with prize money ranging from R20 000 to R30 000. The students were required to use the money towards research work or buying laptop for research purposes.