12 June 2023 | Story ANDRÉ DAMONS | Photo SUPPLIED
Dr Michael Pienaar and Dr Edward C Netherlands
Dr Michael Pienaar, Senior Lecturer and specialist in the Department of Pediatrics and Child Health ( finalist in two categories of this year’s NSTF-South32 Awards) and Dr Edward C Netherlands, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Zoology and Entomology (running for his first NSTF-South32 Award).

Dr Michael Pienaar, Senior Lecturer and Specialist in the University of the Free State (UFS) Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, is a finalist in two categories of the 2023 NSTF-South32 Awards, popularly known as the ‘Science Oscars’ of South Africa.

Dr Pienaar, who has been working in paediatric critical care since 2019 and sees the care of critically ill children as his mission and calling in life, has been named a finalist in the TW Kambule-NSTF Award: Emerging Researcher and the NSTF-SAMRC Clinician-Scientist Award categories. 

Another UFS staff member, Dr Edward C Netherlands, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Zoology and Entomology, is also a finalist in the TW Kambule-NSTF Award: Emerging Researcher category.

The NSTF-SAMRC Clinician-Scientist Award, sponsored by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), is a new award for an outstanding contribution by a clinician-scientist, with a focus on work to enhance life and improve community health. This new category is modelled on the Emerging Researcher category.

‘Validating to have research recognised’

Dr Pienaar says it is humbling to be considered for these awards alongside formidable, accomplished, and innovative clinicians and scientists. “This is all somewhat surreal, as I was not anticipating being shortlisted as a finalist. It is validating to have had my research, which I am committed to, recognised on this platform. I am very grateful to the School of Clinical Medicine and the Faculty of Health Sciences and University of the Free State for nominating me for these awards.”

He was nominated by Dr Claire Armour Barrett, Clinical Research Director and Specialist Physician in the UFS School of Clinical Medicine.

Dr Pienaar says his current research focusses on applied machine learning in paediatric critical care. He has been working on the development of machine learning models that can be used in clinical practice to improve patient care.

“The work leading to these nominations focused on triage and identification of critically ill children in South Africa. Currently, I am working towards machine learning models implemented in point-of-care ultrasonography and mechanical ventilation.

“I am pleased just to be shortlisted for these awards. I think this provides important visibility for my work, which I feel has major long-term implications for clinical practice. I am also very happy to represent the research work being done in the Faculty of Health Sciences and the UFS on this platform.”

On what it will mean to win a ‘Science Oscar’, Dr Pienaar says, “While this would advance my career, I am very aware that all the candidates would be worthy winners. As it is, the opportunity to be a scholar is reward unto itself, and I am very privileged to be able to do the research I do. As ever, I am very grateful to the University and the Faculty of Health Sciences as well as the National Research Foundation for supporting my work.”

‘Honour and privilege’

Dr Netherlands, who was nominated by Prof Corli Witthuhn, former UFS Vice-Rector for Research and Internationalisation, says, “It is a great honour and privilege to represent the UFS.”

His work as a parasitologist and herpetologist involves specialised research in the study of blood parasites. His current research focuses on the diversity, evolution, and ecological implications of blood parasites in herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians of a particular region).

“Being shortlisted as a finalist for this award will be a humbling achievement in my career, that may lead to new opportunities and new collaborations,” Dr Netherlands says. “Furthermore, being shortlisted provides a sense of validation and affirmation for the effort that has gone into conducting my research.”

The announcement of the winners will take place at the NSTF-South32 Awards Gala Event on 13 July 2023. 

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