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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

Nat Nakasa the inspiration behind UFS academic’s PhD thesis

 Description: 001 Dr Willemien Marais Tags: 001 Dr Willemien Marais

Photo: Supplied

“I’m interested in alternative ways of approaching things, so I wanted to look at how journalism can be used in an unconventional way to contribute to a developing society.”

This is why Dr Willemien Marais, a lecturer in the Department of Communication Science at the University of the Free State (UFS), decided to title her thesis: Nat Nakasa as existential journalist, describing a form of journalism that places emphasis on the individual’s experiences.

“Existentialism is a philosophy that provides scope for an individual approach to life, and I like Nat Nakasa’s writing because of his excellent sense of humour despite his horrific circumstances as a black journalist during apartheid,” she says.

A practical approach to writing

Dr Marais analysed Nat Nakasa’s approach to journalism through articles he wrote in the early 1960s. She searched for relevant themes of existentialist philosophy in Nakasa’s work in order to prove that he could be read as an existential journalist.

She mentions that in terms of contemporary relevance, Nakasa’s approach to journalism suggests that existentialism could provide the journalist with a practical approach to writing, especially for those journalists working in developing societies.

“The relevance of this approach lies in the fact that any society is always between things – the old and the new – which might require the journalist to operate outside the boundaries of conventional journalism.”

This study was qualitative in nature because of the interpretation required. She mentions that it was basically one of many possible interpretations of Nakasa’s work; with this one using existentialism as a lens.

An intellectually stimulating thesis

Dr Marais quotes French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, who said that interpreting someone’s work, especially someone who was no longer alive, was open to “thousands of shimmering, iridescent, relevant meanings”, and her research represents one of these possible meanings of Nakasa’s work as a journalist.

When asked how long she had worked on her thesis, Dr Marais simply answered “too long!” She mentions that her thesis was initially more of an intellectual exercise. Whereas the actual act of writing took about four months, she spent many years thinking about the topic. “Now that all is said and done, I realise I had to grow into the topic. It took me a while to realise that true understanding does not come overnight!”

Dr Marais mentions that other than herself and the work of Nat Nakasa, there were no other roleplayers involved. “For many, many years it was just Nat Nakasa and I. It was frustrating and exhilarating all at the same time.”

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