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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

Extending new discoveries in the deep subsurface – UFS paper published in Nature Communications

Scanning electron microscopy of some of the Eukarya recovered from two different mines. (a) Dochmiotrema sp. (Plathyelminthes), (b) A. hemprichi (Annelida), (c) Mylonchulus brachyurus (Nematoda), (d) Amphiascoides (Arthropoda). Scale bar, 50 µm (a,b), 100 µm (c), 20 µm (d).

Following the discovery of the first Eukarya in the deep subsurface (Nature, 2010) by a research group from the Department of Microbial, Biochemical, and Food Biotechnology at the University of the Free State (UFS) and their international collaborators, intense interest has developed in understanding the diversity of more complex organisms living in these extreme environments.

Prof Gaetan Borgonie from Extreme Life Isyensya, together with a group of UFS researchers, took this research further, resulting in a paper on this research released in Nature Communications – impact factor 11.47.  This paper is an extension of the first reports of more complex life at great depths, and their abilities to survive these harsh conditions.

Ten authors from the UFS contributed with the array of expertise needed to define this discovery. The group was supported by staff from the different mining groups, long-term leading collaborators from the USA and Canada, and the idea specialist driver of the paper, Prof Borganie.

“After a sampling campaign that lasted more than two years, we identified that Platyhelminthes, Rotifera, Annelida and Arthropoda are thriving at 1.4 km depths in fissure water up to 12,000-years old in the South African mines of Driefontein and Kopanang,” said Prof Borgonie, who was appointed as associated researcher in the Department of Microbial, Biochemical, and Food Biotechnology.

This paper really opens a “can of worms” so to speak. According to Prof Esta van Heerden from the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology at the UFS they extended to define protozoa and fungi. “However, they are present in low numbers,” she said.

Characterisation of the different species reveals that many are opportunistic organisms. In house-adapted video equipment was used to film inside the fissure for the home of the organisms.

This is the first-known study to demonstrate the in situ distribution of biofilms on fissure rock faces using video documentation. Calculations suggest that food, not dissolved oxygen, is the limiting factor for population growth. The discovery of a group of complex multicellular organisms in the underground has important implications for the search for life on other planets in our solar system.

More articles

The strange beasts that live in solid rock deep underground
A microscopic ‘zoo’ is found deep, deep underground

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