leading researchers

Top 1% researchers/ Our Leading Researchers

UFS strip research

We are proud of our outstanding researchers – some of whom are highly ranked by the NRF rating system, some identified in the international listings of leading researchers (such as the Stanford list and the Clarivate Web of Science list), some who are holders of the prestigious SARChI Chairs, and those who have maintained a high level of research productivity and presence for a number of years.

Willem Boshoff

Willem Boshoff has been a Senior Professor in Fine Arts at the UFS for the past ten years. In 2021, he wfas awarded the NRF A2-rating – the first South African artist to be awarded this honour. He is an internationally acclaimed practising artist. As a conceptual artist, Willem Boshoff primarily engages with text and language. For more than four decades, his visual artworks have commented on established language systems and how these function in society to empower or to exclude. His artistic practice involves extensive interdisciplinary research in the fields of lexicography, botany, philosophy, as well as music, with a special interest in contemporary New Music composers. He has donated his entire digital research archive to the UFS Department of Fine Arts. The writing of dictionaries forms an integral part of Willem Boshoff’s artmaking, whether published in book form or presented as large sculptural installations.

The BLIND ALPHABET project (1993 and ongoing) is a three-dimensional dictionary of morphology, with the ‘entries’ being sculptural interpretations of obscure words in wood hidden inside wire baskets. The words interpreted – from the letter A and currently up to the letter L – are hidden from plain sight, as gallery signs stating DO NOT TOUCH traditionally prevent the sighted visitor from touching or opening them. Only a blind viewer may open the lids of the wire baskets, interpret the sculpted concept, and read the definition of the word in braille, acting as guide for the disenfranchised sighted viewer. The open box in the image below contains the word 'Bicolligate'. (See Blind Alphabet under Artworks at www.willemboshoff.com).

For many decades, Prof Boshoff has consistently brought value and critical perspective to arts education in South Africa by teaching, formally evaluating MA and PhD candidates in Fine Arts, and by being called upon to review South Africa’s foremost Fine Arts faculties. His academic qualifications include an honorary PhD in Philosophy awarded by the University of Johannesburg in 2008. Prof Willem Boshoff’s work has been exhibited extensively locally and abroad, including at the Sao Paulo and Venice Biennial exhibitions, at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, France, and at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, Spain. His work is included in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington DC, and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Yorkshire, United Kingdom. He was the 1998 winner of the Ludwig Giess Preis für Kleinplastik by the LETTER Stiftung of Cologne, Germany.

Abdon Atangana

Abdon Atangana, Professor in the Institute for Groundwater Studies, is a leading researcher in Applied Mathematics. His research interests lie in methods and applications of partial and ordinary differential equations, fractional differential equations, perturbation methods, asymptotic methods, iterative methods, and groundwater modelling. In 2020, the Clarivate Web of Science listed him among the top 1% of scientists recognised for their exceptional research influence, demonstrated by the production of multiple cited papers (one of only ten South African scientists listed). He was also named on a global list of leading scientists by Stanford University. Very recently, he also ranked number one in the world in mathematics, number 186 in the world in all fields, and number one in Africa in all fields on the single-year data set. In 2021, he was elected as a fellow of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) in recognition of his outstanding contribution to science and its promotion in the developing world. He is only the second South African and sixth African researcher to be elected a fellow in the field of mathematics. Prof Atangana is known for his work in developing a new fractional operator, the Atangana-Baleanu operator, which is used to model real-world problems in science, technology, and engineering – from predicting groundwater flow to the spread of infectious diseases. With this operator, he not only describes the rate at which something will change, but also accounts for disrupting factors that will help to produce better projections. He is editor of more than 20 leading journals of applied mathematics and mathematics, and for some of these journals he was the first African to be appointed as editor.



Kobus Marais is Professor of Translation Studies in the Department of Linguistics and Language Practice. He has published two monographs, Translation theory and development studies: A complexity theory approach (2014) and A (bio)semiotic theory of translation: The emergence of social-cultural reality (2018). The introduction to a review of the latter by Michael Cronin of the renowned translation studies school, reads as follows:

"Few books are discipline changing. This is one of them. To paraphrase Naomi Klein, A (Bio)- Semiotic Theory of Translation may not change everything but it will change a great many things."

He also published an edited volume with the title Translation studies beyond the postcolony (2017) with Ilse Feinauer, and two edited volumes with Reine Meylaerts, namely Complexity thinking in translation studies: Methodological considerations (2018) and Exploring the implications of complexity thinking for translation studies (2021). His research interests are translation theory, complexity thinking, semiotics/biosemiotics and development studies. His work was recognised when he was awarded a B-rating in 2020. Prof Marais is the founding editor of the Journal for Translation Studies in Africa. He won the UFS Book Prize for Distinguished Scholarship for 2020.


Maxim Finkelstein, a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Mathematical Statistics and Actuarial Science, is the only researcher with an A1-rating in South Africa in probability, statistics, and operational research – recognising him as a world leader in his discipline. Prof Finkelstein’s area of expertise is the modelling of random events and quantifying probabilities of their occurrence. He develops advanced models that take into account numerous factors, for example that the object is operating in a random environment, that its structure could change, that there can be human errors affecting the outcome, that the object interacts with other objects, etc. One of his evolving interests is in the area of healthcare engineering, when, for instance, in monitoring the key health parameters of a patient, some optimal cost-wise decisions can be made on preventive treatments and interventions. He is the author of six books and around 250 papers on various aspects of reliability theory. Since September 2021, Prof Finkelstein has also held the position of a Visiting Professor in the Department of Management Science at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK.


Heidi Hudson

Heidi Hudson is a Professor of International Relations. Prof Hudson, who specialises in feminist security studies with a specific focus on Africa, has obtained a B2-rating from the NRF and is an elected member of ASSAf. She serves on several editorial boards, including International Feminist Journal of Politics, Civil WarsRevista Relaciones Internacionales, and Stichproben: Vienna Journal of African Studies. As a former Advisory Board member of the African Peacebuilding Network (APN) of the Social Science Research Council in New York, Prof Hudson regularly mentors APN fellows. She also serves as an Advisory Board member for the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) Centre of Excellence for Post-conflict Societies, hosted by the Institute of Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) of the Addis Ababa University. During her career, she has been awarded several fellowships, among others, from the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), the Nordic Africa Institute, the University of Calgary, and Fulbright. She has published widely in international journals such as International PeacekeepingPeacebuildingSecurity DialogueSecurity Studies, Politics and Gender, and the International Feminist Journal of Politics.

In 2018, she was the Claude Ake Visiting Chair, hosted by the Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, and the Nordic Africa Institute. 


Conradie Prof Jeanet

Jeanet Conradie, Professor of Chemistry, is regularly ranked as one of the top-ten researchers at the UFS in terms of annual publication output units. Prof Conradie is specifically interested in computational chemistry, and her research focus is the synergy between experimental and computational chemistry in understanding the structure and reactivity of transition metal complexes. Her research group focuses on the synthesis, characterisation, computational chemistry, electrochemistry and kinetics of ligands, transition metal complexes, transition states and reaction intermediates for application in drugs, dye-sensitised solar cells (DSSC), and catalysis. Prof Conradie was named in the Stanford University global list of leading scientists as one of the top scientists in inorganic and nuclear chemistry – both in the single-year data set and in terms of career-long data.


Prof Cynthia Miller Naude and Prof Jacobus

Cynthia Miller-Naudé is a Senior Professor and Head of the Department of Hebrew. A B1-rated scientist, Prof Miller-Naudé specialises in the syntax and pragmatics of Classical Hebrew and the related Northwest Semitic languages. She is particularly interested in moving the field of traditional Semitic philology to an understanding of, and appreciation for, contemporary linguistic approaches to the study of ancient texts.

Miller-Naudé works closely with Prof Jacobus Naudé, who is also a Senior Professor and B-rated scientist in the Department of Hebrew. His research focuses on the linguistics of premodern Hebrew, as well as alterity and orality in religious translation. In his research, he seeks to understand ‘otherness’ of ancient culture and to preserve it while representing it intelligibly for modern users. Prof Miller-Naudé and Prof Naudé are involved in a long-term project on religious translation. In particular, they examine the role of metatexts/paratexts in religious translation and, with Dr Tshokolo Makutoane, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Hebrew, orality and performance of religious texts. In addition, they are investigating the ways in which ancient Hebrew changed over time by recognising that change occurs in cycles. Through their collective leadership, they have engendered a commitment to the internationalisation of their field, especially throughout Africa. To that end, they are bringing the study of Hebrew to Africa through innovative pedagogical methods that take into account the differing linguistic backgrounds and cultural contexts of African students. They are especially interested in empowering Bible translators on the African continent to gain the competency to translate the Bible from the source texts.


Ivan Turok

Ivan Turok holds the DSI/NRF Research Chair (SARChI) in City-Region Economies at the UFS. This is the first partnership of its kind between a university and a research council (the HSRC). The chair seeks to understand how cities can accelerate economic growth and inclusive development, why some cities are more successful than others, and which policies and practices can improve conditions for citizens, firms, and communities. Prof Turok is an NRF B1-rated researcher and one of the most highly cited social scientists in the country, with more than 150 scientific papers in international journals and books. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Regional Studies, and currently Editor of Area Development and Policy and Development Southern Africa. Ivan is an adviser to the United Nations, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), African Development Bank, and European Union. He chaired Durban’s City Planning Commission for four years, helped prepare South Africa’s Integrated Urban Development Framework, and contributed to the National Development Plan. He is an urban and regional economist and development planner – covering urbanisation, affordable housing, township economies, labour markets, urban policy, regional economic development, and tradable services. He was short-listed for the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) lifetime award in 2021.


Dirk Opperman

Dirk Opperman, Professor in the Department of Microbiology, is a B-rated scientist whose research specialisations lie in biocatalysis, structural biology, and directed evolution. He was a co-investigator in the international team of the Global Challenges Research Fund-Synchrotron Techniques for African Research and Technology (GCRF-START) project, which enables collaboration between African and British scientists using synchrotron radiation. The team of researchers recently contributed to an influential paper, ‘Accurate prediction of protein structures and interactions using a three-track neural network’, in Science (373[6557] pp. 871-876). Most of the research and data collection was undertaken at a specialised facility, Diamond Light Source, in the United Kingdom. Having insight into the three-dimensional structure of a protein is essential to understanding its function and mechanism at an atomic level. Prof Opperman also has long-standing collaborative projects with the Biotechnology group at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. In 2021, together with research groups from Norway, the United Kingdom, France, and Kenya, he secured funding via the ERA-NET co-fund on Food Systems and Climate (FOSC) to develop biotechnological processes to upcycle waste products into valuable products and promote a circular economy.

Peter Taylor

Peter Taylor is a Research Professor in the Department of Zoology and Entomology under the Afromontane Research Unit (ARU) on the Qwaqwa Campus. Prof Taylor, a B-rated scientist, is an ecologist, systematist, and conservationist whose research focuses on small mammals – particularly bats and rodents. He has described 17 new species of small mammals and co-authored five scientific books and almost 200 peer-reviewed articles. A former NRF/SARChI Head at the University of Venda (2013-2020), his standing as a researcher was acknowledged by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) when he was inaugurated as a member in 2021. In the same year, he was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, the world’s oldest extant scientific society. He and his research team of students and postdoctoral fellows in the Mountain Bat Lab on the Qwaqwa Campus, have initiated new projects to investigate the ecosystem services provided by bats in natural and agricultural ecosystems in the mountains near Phuthaditjhaba and surrounding farms. They have also embraced an engaged scholarship approach to involve school and farm communities in the research and increase awareness about the importance of protecting nature’s goods and services for a sustainable future in the region. He has supervised 22 MSc and 16 PhD students.

Hussein Solomon

Hussein Solomon, Senior Professor in the Department of Political Studies and Governance, was inaugurated as a new member of ASSAf in 2020. Prof Solomon is an Extraordinary Professor at the North-West University’s School of Government Studies, Visiting Professor at the Osaka School of International Public Policy, Nelson Mandela University, and the Department of Political Science at Stellenbosch University. He is also a Senior Research Associate of the Israeli-based Think Tank for the Research of Islam and Muslims in Africa, a Research Fellow at Niger Delta University, a Senior Analyst for the New York-based Wikistrat, a Research Associate of the Centre for Defence Studies at the University of Zimbabwe, and a Research Associate of the South African Institute of International Affairs. In addition, he is Deputy Chair of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs (South African chapter), and Vice-President of the African Studies Association of India. He is a member of the International Advisory Boards of the Middle East Institute and the Research Institute for European and American Studies in Athens, a member of the Security Council of the Gerson Lehrman Group of Companies, the International Steering Committee of Global Action to Prevent War, and the International Advisory Council of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research in Hawaii, and sits on the Board of Trustees of All Africa Women for Peace. Prof Solomon serves on the editorial boards of a number of journals in various capacities, including Politeia; Globalizations; Southern African Peace and Security Studies; London Security Policy Study; Africa Insight; Afro-Eurasian Journal; African Security; Contemporary Review of the Middle East; Alternatives; Journal of Administrative Science; Afro-Arab Social and Economic Review; Journal of African Union Studies; Politikon; African Journal for the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism; Scientific Journals International; and Insight on Africa. His research interests include security studies, conflict and conflict resolution in Africa, South African foreign policy, international relations theory, religious fundamentalism, the nexus between religion and politics in Africa, and population.

D Codron

Daryl Codron, Associate Professor in the Department of Zoology and Entomology and a B-rated scientist, recognising him as an internationally acclaimed researcher. He leads the Animal Ecology research group, which studies patterns of resource use and how these shape the ecological dynamics and evolutionary adaptations of primarily mammalian faunas. Emphasis is on stable isotope analysis for reconstructing trophic niche dynamics over multiple space and time scales, as well as on the theoretical principles underpinning this approach. Current projects specifically aim to quantify individual- and population-level niche variations, the life history characteristics that constrain these diet niches, and to model the impacts on species’ competitive interactions and coexistence mechanisms. In November 2021, the group published an article in which resource competition was shown to organise coexisting species’ niches into distinct clusters rather than unique units, with the emergence of sizeable gaps in the available niche space. They also provided the first empirical support for the evolution of niche clustering, using the fossil record of the South African central interior. 


Hendrik Swart is a Senior Professor in the Department of Physics and a B1 NRF-rated researcher who was included in Stanford University’s global list of leading researchers in applied physics. He brought luminescence materials to South Africa in 1996 after a highly productive sabbatical at the University of Florida, USA. This laid the foundation for his subsequent research; since then, he has led research in the area of phosphor degradation for field emission displays, as well as developing materials for nano solid-state lighting. He has been key in the development of processes to synthesise and deposit thin films of various types of semiconductor nano-particles, which will enhance the colour, luminescent intensity, and lifetime of such displays. His research led to the establishment of a strong group working on luminescent materials, which culminated in the award of the SARChI Chair in Solid-State Luminescent and Advanced Materials in 2012, which was renewed for another five years until 2022. The main focus of his research group is the improvement of luminescent materials for application in flat panel displays, solar cells, solid-state lighting, dosimetry, and thermometry.


Maryke Labuschagne from the Department of Plant Sciences leads the SARChI Chair in Disease Resistance and Quality of Field Crops. The chair, which was extended for a further five years in 2020, focuses on advancing food security and nutrition in Africa. Prof Labuschagne emphasises that, despite recent advances in addressing hunger and food security, they remain critical issues. She believes that the uniqueness and strength of the chair lie in its dual emphasis of breeding cereal crops for resistance to fungal diseases and improving the nutritional value and quality of crops for processing and human consumption. Prof Labuschagne’s research has taken her all over Africa to undertake research on the genetic improvement of staple food crops in communities. Through decades of research and collaboration, she has also contributed to the establishment of a strong network of researchers on the continent.


Francois Tolmie

Francois Tolmie is Professor of New Testament in the Faculty of Theology and Religion. He is a B-rated researcher, specialising in Johannine literature (in particular, narratological approaches) and Pauline literature (in particular, the rhetorical analysis of the Letter to the Galatians and the Letter to Philemon). With a DTh in New Testament Studies and a PhD in Greek, Prof Tolmie is considered an expert in narratology, rhetorical analysis, and the translation and theology of these New Testament texts. In 2022, the results of several years of focused research on the history of interpretation of the Letter to Philemon were published as an academic book by Mohr Siebeck in Germany, one of the leading international publishers in theology. This work, titled Pointing out Persuasion in Philemon. Fifty Readings of Paul’s Rhetoric from the Fourth to the Eighteenth Century (383 pages), was chosen to launch a new academic series, History of Biblical Exegesis, and is the most comprehensive study of the way in which commentators on the letter interpreted Paul’s rhetoric from the fourth until the eighteenth centuries.

Melanie Walker

Melanie Walker is a Distinguished Professor and holder of the SARChI Chair on Higher Education and Human Development. She has been awarded the NRF’s highest rating of A1 for the second consecutive five-year period. Prof Walker’s specific interest in education research lies in how it can explore and reveal inequalities and opportunities in ways that might enable improved social justice in higher education settings, but also foster an understanding of what higher education is in relation to society. Through her international reputation, her research, and outstanding mentorship, she inspires and capacitates young sub-Saharan researchers, and has had a significant impact on the standing and reputation of the UFS. Prof Walker is listed as one of the leading scientists globally by Stanford University. In 2021, Prof Walker was elected President of the international Human Development and Capability Association (HDCA). This is the first time that the HDCA president is based in the Global South. Also in 2021, she was reappointed as honorary professor at the University of Nottingham and was appointed extraordinary professor at the University of Pretoria.


Paul Oberholster, Director of the Centre for Environmental Management, won the NSTF-Water Research Commission (WRC) Award in 2021 for his contribution to water resource management in South Africa over the past five years, with special reference to the field biological passive wastewater treatment. The NSTF-South32 Awards were the first science awards in South Africa, and are the largest, most comprehensive, and sought-after national awards of their kind in the country. The NSTF Awards honour and celebrate outstanding contributions to science, engineering, and technology (SET), and innovation. Prof Oberholster’s research focuses on the use of freshwater algae to treat acid mine drainage or domestic wastewater. Current wastewater solutions take into account sustainable development and the global move towards a more circular use of resources where waste is reduced, and resources are recycled. In this context, he and his research team have undertaken new research at the phycoremediation pilot plant in Mossel Bay on the reuse of domestic wastewater and the use of the algae biomass for biofuel and biofertiliser.



Carlien Pohl-Albertyn, Professor of Microbiology in the Department of Microbiology and Biochemistry, is the holder of the SARChI Chair in Pathogenic Yeasts, which studies pathogenic yeast infections and necessary treatment options. The research group focuses on molecular mechanisms of virulence and the role of bioactive lipids in pathogenic yeasts, specifically Cryptococcus neoformans and several Candida species. The group is also interested in the virulence of polymicrobial infections consisting of Candida spp. and the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This research brings hope to many immunosuppressed patients battling HIV/Aids, cancer, and diabetes, who suffer from opportunistic yeast infections. Prof Pohl-Albertyn was on the team of researchers who wrote the health sector response to the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa for the Country Report for submission to Parliament.



Felicity Burt

Felicity Burt is an expert in arbovirology in the Division of Virology of the Faculty of Health Sciences and the National Health Laboratory Service. With more than 25 years of research on medically significant viruses that cycle in nature and are transmitted to humans via mosquitoes, ticks, or animals, Prof Burt is a B-rated scientist and holder of the SARChI Chair in Vector-borne and Zoonotic Pathogens Research, which was extended for a further five years in 2020. The chair builds on existing research strengths at the UFS and aims to contribute towards identifying and investigating medically significant arboviruses and zoonotic viruses in the country. To this end, the research chair has facilitated progress towards establishing serosurveillance studies for various vector-borne viruses, including Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever virus, a tick-borne and zoonotic virus that causes severe disease with fatalities. The new biosafety level 3 BSL-3 laboratory in which the UFS has invested, has enabled the research group to extend its research of pathogens that were previously excluded from the programme due to biosafety considerations.

Prof Burt emphasises that the majority of new and emerging viruses are zoonotic in origin and that the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic highlights the impact of an emerging zoonotic pathogen on society. Consequently, her research group uses a One Health approach in their surveillance programmes, in which interactions between humans, animal hosts, and the environment are considered, in order to further our knowledge and understanding of viruses with public and/or veterinary health implications circulating in nature. In the absence of commercially available assays, the group is adept at developing and validating multiple assays for application in its research. The surveillance confirmed the presence of several viruses with public health implications circulating within mosquito populations in the Free State.

Due to her expertise, Prof Burt led the UFS COVID-19 Task Team, which advised on the implementation of national guidelines for the safety of staff and students on the UFS campuses.



Contact us

Dr Glen Taylor
Senior Director: Research Development
T: +27 51 401 9778
E: TaylorGJ@ufs.ac.za

Lelani Oosthuizen
Research Outputs Coordinator
T: +27 51 401 3027
E: OosthuizenL@ufs.ac.za

Johannes Brill Building, First Floor, Bloemfontein Campus

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