Get to know some of the researchers at the University of the Free State whose work is inspiring excellence and transforming lives globally.

In addition to the experts listed below, the UFS also boasts a unique research centre: The International Studies Group (ISG), which comprises  a wide network of postgraduate researcherspostdoctoral fellows, and academic staff, each with their own specialist field.

A list of some of our other leading researchers is available here.

To arrange an interview with any of our experts, please contact our media office at

Qwaqwa Campus Afromontane

Our Qwaqwa Campus is home to the Afromontane Research Unit.

Prof Abdon Atangana
Area of expertise:
Applied Mathematics
Faculty/Department: Natural and Agricultural Sciences, Institute of Groundwater Studies

Abdon Atangana

Prof Abdon Atangana

Prof Abdon Atangana is a leading applied Mathematics professor at the UFS. He obtained his honours and master’s degrees from the Department of Applied Mathematics at the UFS with distinction. He obtained his PhD degree in applied mathematics from the Institute for Groundwater Studies.

He serves as an editor for 18 international journals and is also a reviewer of more than 200 international accredited journals and has been awarded the world champion of peer review twice, in 2016 and 2017. He also serves on more than 20 editorial boards of applied mathematics and mathematics. He has presented and participated in more than 20 international conferences and has been invited as plenary speaker in more than 10 international conferences of applied mathematics and mathematics. His research interests are methods and applications of partial and ordinary differential equations, fractional differential equations, perturbation methods, asymptotic methods, iterative methods, and groundwater modelling.

Prof Atangana is the founder of the fractional calculus with non-local and non-singular kernels popular in applied mathematics today. Since 2013 he has published in 165 international accredited journals of applied mathematics, applied physics, geo-hydrology and bio-mathematics. He is also the single author of two books in Academic Press Elsevier.

Robert Bragg

Prof Robert Bragg

Prof Robert Bragg
Area of expertise: 
Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology
Natural and Agricultural Sciences,
 Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology

Prof Robert Bragg and his research team from the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology at the UFS are regarded as world leaders in their area of research. Prof Bragg is a C-rated NRF researcher.

In a major breakthrough, his team have been able to produce a vaccine against a virus which cannot be cultured. The technology is now used as a model for their other vaccine development projects. His main research focuses on control of diseases, mostly in the veterinary field.

His long-standing and current research areas focus on infectious coryza caused by the bacterium Avibacterium paragallinarum which occurs in poultry, disease control in a post-antibiotic era and vaccine development. They are assisting vaccine producers in South Africa, India and Israel to improve the formulation of vaccines, and are investigating variant field isolates from countries in South and Central America. Resistance to disinfectants are also being investigated.

The other research area in which the group is active is the search for disease control options in a post-antibiotic era. He has been working towards this for many years and the focus has been on improved biosecurity and the development of a continual disinfection programme in poultry. This work was based on a novel disinfectant which was produced by a South African company based in Stellenbosch. This was the first use worldwide of a disinfectant to control disease in poultry production. It was demonstrated that this continual disinfection programme could stop serious poultry diseases such as Newcastle disease virus and Avian influenza, another current “hot topic”. This work resulted in the registration of a disinfectant with label claims for the control of Newcastle disease virus. This was another “first” for a disinfectant. This continual disinfection programme will be the only viable solution to control bacterial diseases in poultry production in a post-antibiotic era.

His main research activity is on the control of diseases in birds (mostly poultry) and in efforts to improve vaccination efficacy, particularly for the often neglected small-scale farmer.

Prof Felicity Burt

Prof Felicity Burt

Prof Felicity Burt 
Area of expertise:
Medical Virology
Faculty/Department: Health Sciences, Medical Microbiology

Prof Felicity Burt
is from the Division of Virology, in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Free State (UFS) and National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS). She currently holds a NRF-DST South African Research Chair in vector-borne and zoonotic diseases.  Professor Burt and her research group investigate arboviruses and zoonotic viruses. 

The research primarily focuses on host immune responses to arboviral infections specifically characterising humoral and cellular immune responses in patients with infections such as Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) virus and Sindbis virus; epitope discovery for development of diagnostic tools; development of molecular and serological assays for surveillance purposes; virus discovery; and development of vaccines. Raising awareness of these viruses, defining associated diseases and developing tools for surveillance programmes will contribute to understanding these pathogens and the public health implications.

Arboviruses cause outbreaks of disease in South Africa annually. Outbreaks are usually associated with heavy-rainfall favouring mosquito-breeding, but these viruses also have the capacity to spread and become endemic in new areas where competent vectors are present. 
In addition, she is leads a research group that investigates human papilloma viruses (HPV) associated with head and neck cancers and recurrent laryngeal papillomas.

The focus of this research group is to ascertain the genotypes of HPV causing these diseases, identification of novel biomarkers for early detection and complete genome sequencing for molecular characterisation of HPV isolates.  

Phillipe Burger

Prof Philippe Burger

Prof Philippe Burger
Area of expertise: Economics
Faculty/ Department: Economic and Management Sciences, Economics and Finance
Prof Philippe Burger is a Professor of Economics and Head of the Department of Economics at the University of the Free State (UFS). He was a 2016/17 Fulbright Exchange Scholar at the Center for Sustainable Development, Earth Institute, at Columbia University (New York).

He was president of the Economic Society of South Africa from September 2012 to October 2014. Prof Burger is also a member of the South African Statistics Council, which oversees the work of Statistics SA. His publications include three books and numerous academic articles on fiscal rules and fiscal sustainability, public private partnerships and macroeconomic and economic development policy.

Together with International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff he co-authored two IMF working papers. In 2009 the IMF invited him to spend a month at the IMF as a visiting scholar. In 2007, 2010 and 2012 he was seconded to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris to work on public private partnerships and capital budgeting. In October 2011 he joined an OECD mission to Indonesia to conduct a regulatory review of Indonesia. He was a member of the Panel of Experts of the South African National Treasury, in which capacity he co-authored a 20-year review of South African fiscal policy since 1994.

Dr Francois Deacon
Area of expertise: Habitat Ecology
Faculty/Department: Natural and Agricultural Sciences, Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences

Dr Francois Deacon is a wildlife habitat expert, among other things, but his research is focused on giraffe in their natural habitat. The recognition he has earned nationally and internationally is proof of that. He has a saying: “If we can save the habitat wildlife need, then the animals will be just fine”.

He has received a National Research Foundation (NRF) grant and various other funding to support his research on an international level. He was nominated on multiple occasions as the best lecturer at the UFS and the students truly enjoy his teaching philosophy that: “not all classrooms have four walls”.

Francois Deacon

Dr Francois Deacon

Dr Deacon is a lecturer at the Department of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences. Dr Deacon considers himself as a habitat ecologist, focusing on the spatial ecology of wild mammals. He has many projects with collaborations from institutions worldwide, but his primary project is to understand the ecological and biological factors that regulate giraffe in their natural habitat. For this he has built a multispecialist research team of 30 scientists from 10 different countries, helping to address the research questions and objectives.

His long-term research and contribution to save the giraffe from becoming extinct in the wild on the African continent has received extensive coverage in the popular press and has led to three wildlife documentaries made on his research by National Geographic and presentations at international conferences. With his spatial ecology approach, he evaluates the habitat preferences, diet selection and spatial utilisation by giraffe in different reserves across Southern Africa. The successful development of a head harness equipped with a satellite GPS device was an exceptional achievement with more than 50 giraffes contributing to the success. This led to the collection of data and the description of behaviour that has never before been documented. The development of scientific norms and a management manual not only resulted in a unique study of significant academic importance, but will also contribute to the effective management and conservation of the species in Africa.

He has published in a few international journals and aims to continue to publish in high-impact factor journals. His latest expeditions are considered as the key of all keys and could create a turnaround of giraffe numbers plummeting further. An international film crew are busy capturing this process in a film called Catching Giants in which the UFS is the true leader and brainchild of this pioneer study.

Sethulego Matebesi

Dr Sethulego Matebesi

Dr Sethulego Matebesi
Area of expertise: Local politics
Faculty/Department: The Humanities, Sociology

Dr Sethulego Matebesi is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology, says, “South Africa has experienced widespread community protests driven by historical conditions and contemporary pressures.” Dr Matebesi is involved in work that combines research and advocacy work on social movements, protests, governance and public participation at local government level, and mining in South Africa. He is a regular commentator on local socio-economic and political issues in the country.

Dr Matebesi published Civil strife against local governance: Dynamics of community protests in contemporary South Africa, in March 2017. The book is based on a three-year project funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and responds to the challenging question of how ratepayers’ associations in predominantly white areas and concerned groups in predominantly black communities use different protest tactics in response to the same set of grievances.

His earlier work on service-delivery protests has exposed him to political and social commentary for the SABC and various independent radio stations since 2009.

Prof Hussein Solomon

Prof Hussein Solomon

Prof Hussein Solomon
Area of expertise: Security studies and Conflict resolution
Faculty/Department: The Humanities, Political Studies and 
Prof Hussein Solomon holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of South Africa. He is currently a Senior Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of the Free State.

Prof Solomon is a member of the South African Academy of Science and Art and a member of the National Research Foundation’s (NRF) Philosophy and Political Science subject specialist rating group. He currently has a C2 ranking from the NRF.

His research interests include conflict and conflict resolution in Africa; South African foreign policy; international relations theory; religious fundamentalism and population movements within the developing world. His publications have appeared in South Africa, Nigeria, the US, the UK, Switzerland, the Russian Federation, Greece, The Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Egypt, Ethiopia, Israel, Lebanon, India, Bangladesh, Spain and Japan.

His most recent books include African Security in the Twenty-First Century: Challenges and Opportunities (with Stephen Emerson, Manchester University Press, 2018), Understanding Boko Haram and Insurgency in Africa (with Jim Hentz, Routledge, 2017), Islamic State and the Coming Global Confrontation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism in Africa: Fighting Insurgency from Al Shabaab, Ansar Dine and Boko Haram (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), and Jihad: A South African Perspective (SUN MeDIA, 2013).

Video of Prof Hussein Solomon

Dr Chitja Twala
Area of expertise: African History 
Faculty/Department: The Humanities, History

Dr Chitja Twala is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of the Free State (UFS), Bloemfontein Campus. He holds a PhD in History from the UFS. Dr Twala has a substantial publication record on the history of the liberation movements, with special reference to the African National Congress in the Free State. He is the author of six chapters and co-authored two in The Road to Democracy in South Africa: Vol. 4 (1970-1990) and the Road to Democracy in South Africa: Vol. 6 (1990-1996) published in 2010 and 2013 respectively. He has presented more than 30 papers both nationally and internationally.

Dr Twala was part of the first group of the UFS Vice-Chancellor’s Prestige Scholarship Programme (PSP). He is currently collaborating with Prof Peter Limb (Michigan State University) on a book project on the history of the ANC in the Free State. Twala has published in numerous peer-reviewed articles in local and international journals. He serves on the Editorial Boards of the Journal for Contemporary History, Yesterday and Today Journal, and South African Journal of Cultural Studies.

Dr Chitja Twala

Dr Chitja Twala

From August to December 2015 he was a South Africa/Harvard University Fellow (in the US) and conducted research on the liberation movements. He has presented papers and undertaken research in the following countries, to name a few: Britain, Singapore, Finland, Greece, US, Japan, Zambia, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Senegal.

He has been invited as the keynote speaker at the following universities: Appalachian University in Boone (US); James Madison University in North Carolina (US); University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) in the US; Michigan State University (US); Howard University in Washington (US); Osaka University (Japan); Russian Institute of African Studies (Moscow) and Stanford University (US). He is the external examiner at a number of universities in South Africa, including the University of the Witwatersrand, University of Venda, Sol Plaatje and the North-West Universities.

Dr Twala has received the following awards:

  • The National Research Foundation
  • New frontier in Poverty Reduction and Sustainable Development Funding
  • Recipient of the Graduate School for Arts and Sciences at the University of Harvard
  • US Recipient of the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences Grant
  • Awarded the Mellon Foundation Scholarship from 2016-2018

Prof Corinna Walsh

Prof Corinna Walsh

Prof Corinna Walsh
Area of expertise: Nutrition and Dietetics
Faculty/Department: Health Sciences, Nutrition and Dietetics

Globally, it has become apparent that health in both children and adults is closely related to the early environment that children are exposed to during pregnancy and early childhood, says Prof Corinna Walsh  of the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics and an National Research Foundation C-rated researcher at the University of the Free State (UFS).

Prof Walsh has a keen interest in health research, specifically nutrition and health epidemiology. She has initiated three large-scale health and nutrition-related surveys that have been instrumental in determining the burden of disease in the Free State, related to both infectious and lifestyle diseases. The morbidity and mortality resulting from these diseases have reached epidemic proportions in developing countries such as South Africa, and are thus an important area of investigation.

The focus of her research is on nutritional health, HIV, malnutrition, food security, and transitions from traditional to Western lifestyles and how these impact on health. Collaboration with co-workers from Basic Medical Sciences, Chemical Pathology, Haematology, Biostatistics, and others ensures a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary research.

Her datasets have been included in three international meta-analyses to answer key questions related to cardiovascular risk in HIV-infected and uninfected people. These have been published in high-impact journals such as BMC Medicine and International Journal of Epidemiology.

She says the study of the early environment can contribute to understanding the mechanisms by which disease manifests later in life. In this regard, she has initiated a birth cohort study within the Faculty of Health Sciences. This multidisciplinary longitudinal study will investigate the short- and long-term consequences of early environment in a group of mothers and children from the Free State for years to come.

Prof Walsh has received the Nutrition Society Best Young Scientist Award and the Association for Dietetics Community Dietetics Award. She serves on the Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Health Sciences, and is a council member of the Nutrition Society of South Africa. Between 2005 and 2010, she served on the Board of the Medical Research Council, gaining valuable experience in health research and research administration.

We use cookies to make interactions with our websites and services easy and meaningful, to better understand how they are used and to tailor advertising. You can read more and make your cookie choices here. By continuing to use this site you are giving us your consent to do this.