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Women scientists recognised

Written by Sulaiman Philip
The full scientific potential of South Africa will only be realised when all our young women are able to enjoy access to the best facilities and education, says Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor.

Besides her work in microbiology and biotechnology, Women in Science winner Dr Tiisetso Lephoto is passionate about youth development.The minister was speaking at the 2017 Women in Science Awards held in Sandton recently. The awards, presented for the first time in 2003, recognise and reward leading female researchers and scientists.

In her welcome message, Minister Pandor said that the awards showed that women can excel in science and research, even while balancing the demands of career and family.

“The awards are a reminder that the full scientific potential of our country will only be realised when all our young women are able to enjoy access to the best facilities and education,” she added.

This year’s keynote address was delivered by Dr Nolulamo Gwagwa, the chief executive of Lereko Investments. She said that the women recognised by the awards, via nomination or receiving an award, are role models for young girls and boys, and the continent’s future depends on young people who follow their role models into innovative and technology-driven careers.

 A brighter future for Africa depends on more women becoming involved in sectors linked to technology and innovation. Dr Gwagwa challenged the audience to encourage young girls not to give up on their dreams of choosing careers based on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. Young girls need to be encouraged to be ambitious. “We must tell young girls driven by burning ambition that it is okay and natural for women to be ambitious.”

Reseacher and mentor

Among the list of impressive winners was Dr Tiisetso Lephoto, a researcher at Wits.

Her research covers the fields of microbiology, biotechnology, genomics, nematology and bioinformatics.

She is also passionate about youth development, and spends her spare time mentoring high school students through the Katleho Pele Education Foundation.

“My vision is to change the world. I started a project called Yes We Are Moving, where I host aerobic marathons to collect clothes, food parcels and books for orphanages. I also provide nutritional advice and physical training through Tii-Moves, my fitness and wellness project.”

Her research and charity work complement each. She is trying to find natural ways to control pests in agriculture. “That’s the healthier way of killing insects, without harming people or animals in any way. Through TiiMoves I encourage people to put nutrition with exercise, and feel good in their own skin.”

While her research is fulfilling, she believes that giving back to the community makes her a more rounded person. “I believe the higher you go, you have to find a way to lift other people with you. It’s very fulfilling to share knowledge, to help someone, and then see them succeed.”

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