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14 December 2020
Prof Abdon Atangana
Prof Abdon Atangana is known for his work in developing a new fractional operator used to model real-world problems arising in the fields of science, technology, and engineering. He was recently awarded the TWAS Mohammad A. Hamdan Award by The World Academy of Sciences.

Prof Abdon Atangana, Professor of Applied Mathematics in the Institute for Groundwater Studies at the University of the Free State (UFS), was awarded the TWAS Mohammad A. Hamdan Award by The World Academy of Sciences for the advancement of science in developing countries.

It is the first time that the TWAS Mohammad A. Hamdan Award was bestowed. According to a statement issued by TWAS, this award is given for outstanding mathematical work carried out by a scientist working and living in Africa or the Arab region. It states that the award can be given for work in pure mathematics, applied mathematics, probability, or statistics. Prof Atangana received the award for his contribution to fractal mathematics and partial differential equations.

Making a difference in society

He is known for his research in developing a new fractional operator, the Atangana-Baleanu operator, which is used to model real-world problems. With this operator, he not only describes the rate at which something will change, but also account for disrupting factors that will help to produce better projections.

His work can be applied to make complicated predictions in the fields of science, technology, and engineering. His models can, for instance, help to predict the spread of infectious diseases among people in a settlement, forecasting the number of people who will be infected each day, the number of people who will recover, and the number of people who will die.

Prof Atangana’s models can also help to advise people drilling for water by predicting how groundwater is flowing in a complex geological formation. These are only two examples of how his work can be applied to make a difference in society.

The award from TWAS is the third prestigious commendation he has received in the past month. He was recently named as one of the top 1% scientists on the global Clarivate Web of Science list. His name also appeared on a global list of leading scientists published by Stanford University in the United States. The list is the result of a study published in PLOS Biology, a peer-reviewed open-access journal.

World’s most accomplished scientists

Honours awarded by TWAS and its partners are among the most prestigious for research in the developing world. They recognise outstanding achievements and contributions to science and acknowledge the best work by scientists from the global South.

TWAS, founded in 1983 by a group of scientists under the leadership of Pakistani physicist and Nobel laureate, Abdus Salam, believes that developing nations – by growing strength in science and engineering – will be able to address challenges such as hunger, disease, and poverty, through their knowledge and skills.

TWAS is represented in 100 countries, and of the more than a thousand elected fellows, 14 are Nobel laureates. Eighty-four percent of these fellows are from developing nations. TWAS fellows are also some of the world’s most accomplished scientists.

News Archive

From wheat protein to perfect pizza
2017-09-26

Description: Phd Read more Tags: Barend Wentzel, Department of Plant Sciences, plant breeding, proteins, Agricultural Research Council 

Barend Wentzel received his PhD at the Department
of Plant Sciences during the university’s
winter graduation ceremony.
He is pictured here with Prof Maryke Labuschagne,
professor in Plant Breeding at the UFS.
Photo: Charl Devenish

Barend Wentzel, an alumnus of the University of the Free State’s Department of Plant Sciences, is passionate about plant breeding. 

He literally eats and lives wheat proteins. In 1989 he initiated a breeding programme on arum lilies. “This breeding programme is at an advanced stage,” he said. Besides reading, playing the piano and accordion, Barend, due to the nature of his research at the Agricultural Research Council, also experiments with different types of ciabatta recipes made from sour dough. “I usually make my own pizza on Saturday evenings,” he said.

He is working at the Agricultural Research Council – Small Grain (ARC-SG) at the Wheat Quality Laboratory where he established a Cereal Chemistry Laboratory.

Complexity of flour quality

He explains that the focus of his research is on wheat protein composition. “The research conducted for my PhD study explains the complexity of flour quality to a certain extent, and it further emphasises the influence of the environment and genetic composition on selected baking characteristics. 

“Wheat protein can be divided into different types of protein fractions. These protein fractions contribute differently to dough properties and baking quality and the expression is affected by different components in the environment, including locality, rainfall and temperature. 

“Protein content alone does, however, not explain the variation in baking quality parameters, such as mixing time, dough strength and extensibility, and loaf volume.

“Several methods can be applied to quantify the different protein fractions. I am using high-performance liquid-chromatography (HPLC). The procedure entails the separation of a wheat protein extract through a column with chromatographic packing material. The injected sample is pumped through the column (known as the stationary phase) with a solvent (known as the mobile phase). The specific procedure, size-exclusion high-performance liquid-chromatography (SE-HPLC), is also used by the university’s Department of Plant Breeding, as well as in several international Cereal Chemistry Laboratories,” said Barend.

Dough strength and to loaf volume
“One of the highlights from the study was the positive contribution of the albumin and globulin protein fractions to dough strength and to loaf volume. The findings were wheat cultivar specific and the growing environment influenced the expression. The contribution of these protein fractions was much larger than previously reported for South African wheat cultivars,” said Barend. 
“Previous reports indicated that these protein fractions had a non-specific contribution to the gluten network during dough formation. The findings from this PhD justify further research on albumins and globulin proteins.” 

The Cereal Chemistry Laboratory at ARC-SG is involved in postgraduate student training under Barend’s guidance. He serves as co-promoter for several MSc and PhD students. He is also a collaborator on an international project with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Mexico. Barend is furthermore working on improving wheat quality for processing and health purposes as a member of the expert working group of the International Wheat Initiative. 

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