16 July 2020 | Story Andre Damons | Photo Supplied
Prof Paul Oberholster and Prof Zakkie Pretorius

Two staff members from the University of the Free State (UFS) are nominated for the Science Oscars for their outstanding work and contributions to science over the years. 

Prof Pretorius is nominated in two categories, namely the Special Annual Theme Award: Research and development (R&D) and innovation in Plant Health as well as the Lifetime category.  The Special Annual Theme Awards are made in recognition of the International Year of Plant Health (2020), as declared by the United Nations.

Prof Oberholster is nominated for the NSTF-Water Research Commission Award. This award is for an outstanding contribution to science, engineering, and technology (SET) and innovation in South Africa in terms of sustainable water management, knowledge generation, and solutions over the past five to ten years, and is awarded in recognition of demonstrated leadership and impact.

Science Oscars of South Africa

The NSTF-South32 Awards are referred to as the ‘Science Oscars’ of South Africa and are the largest, most comprehensive, and sought-after national awards of its kind in the country. It was also the first science awards in South Africa.

Prof Oberholster says it is a privilege to be nominated and selected as a finalist in his specific field of interest.
“I always believe the best person will win the award. At this level of competition, it can go both ways. I was nominated by the university for my scientific contribution to water resource management in South Africa over the past 10 years, with special reference to the field of passive wastewater treatment,” says Prof Oberholster.

Although this is the first time that he has been nominated for the NSTF-Water Research Commission Award, Prof Oberholster has previously been nominated in the Innovation category.

Prof Oberholster, whose research focus area is the use of freshwater algae to treat acid mine drainage or domestic wastewater, has previously also won the Excellence Award: CSIR:NRE Outstanding team contribution: Project Leader: Coal tech, WRC and SANBI, Wetland restoration project; and the Excellence Award: CSIR:NRE Innovation: Algae technology for sewage treatment in South African rural areas.

Innovative technology 

This innovative, low-cost green technology assists in the effective and efficient removal of nutrients and bacteria in effluents discharged from wastewater treatment works to improve human health risk, create economic opportunities, and protect downstream ecosystem services. This technology is currently being rolled out to other SADC countries by the African Development Bank. In the case of acid mine drainage treatment, the technology provides a ‘walk-away’ solution for the mining industry. These systems are largely self-sustainable, using no electricity or chemicals, and can be maintained by a semi-skilled workforce.

Prof Pretorius, who has extensive expertise in diseases of field crops – more specifically the rust diseases of small grain cereal crops, has recently been awarded Honorary Membership by the Southern African Plant Breeders’ Association (SAPBA). His colleague, Prof Liezel Herselman, Associate Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences, was presented with a Fellow Award.

• A new, specially arranged virtual Awards Gala Event will be livestreamed on Thursday, 30 July 2020 at 18:45 for 19:00 until 20:30 to honour the finalists and announce the winners.

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