SAAB Awards 2020

Gold Medal Winner: Prof RJ Scholes

Prof Balkwill (Nominator), Prof Scholes, Prof Boatwright (SAAB President)

Professor Scholes is a Distinguished Professor of Systems Ecology at the University of the Witwatersrand and he holds an A-rating with the NRF.

Prof. Scholes has a particular interest in the savannas of Africa and he has provided both a deep and broad understanding of the functioning of southern African savannas in the context of savannas worldwide. He has extensive field experience in many parts of Africa and the world.

Prof Scholes has a record of 158 journal publications in the Web of Science and has an h-index of 52 with a total of 11 125 citations. His most cited paper has been cited 1406 times and he is now receiving in the region of 1400 citations per year. He has published 10 Books (as author or co-author) and has edited another 9. He is an author on 73 refereed Chapters in books as well as 44 items in refereed Conference Proceedings. His publications cover a wide range of topics in the fields of savanna ecology, global change, and earth observation.

He has supervised 9 doctoral, 17 Masters and very many Honours students. He has taught stimulating, challenging and inspiring courses at undergraduate, Honours and Masters Levels. He has thus made a very significant contribution to the development of scarce skills and talent in the country.

Silver Medal Winner: Prof Jeremy Midgley

Dr Chimphango, Prof Midgley, Prof Boatwright (SAAB President)

Professor Jeremy Midgley was awarded the SAAB 2020 Silver Medal for his outstanding contribution to Botany and Plant Sciences in South Africa, as well as internationally. His research outputs are making a phenomenal impact both locally and worldwide. He has published nearly 220 scientific papers in reputable and prestigious journals including Nature. He has published 8 book chapters.  These publications are being cited remarkably, recording over 13000 times with an H-index of 45. This high citation is a clear testimony of the ground-breaking new discoveries in natural science and big questions in Biology.

The Cape has many unusual plant-animal interactions and the discoveries of some of these by Prof Midgley provided greater understanding of the Cape ecosystem. They brought important attention to the Cape Flora as these examples are portrayed in both hard and soft scientific media. For example, the work on dung beetle deception is in the top 1% of all altimetrics.

Along the discoveries of new phenomena in nature and addressing big research questions in Science, Prof Midgley has trained 9 PhD students, and over 20 MSc students. Majority of these students are well established and top-class researchers. He is a B1 NRF rated researcher.

Bronze Medal Winner: Dr Joanne Bentley

Prof Farrant (Supervisor), Dr Bentley, Prof Boatwright (SAAB President)

Dr Bentley received the Bronze medal award for her PhD Thesis: ‘Comparative metabolomic profiling of phenolics in the desiccation-tolerant “resurrection plant” Myrothamnus flabellifolia (Myrothamnaceae) using conventional and green chemistry-based solvent systems’.

Using the newly-emerging field of plant metabolomics, Dr Bentley’s PhD involved elucidating the phylogenetic and chemotaxonomic relationships of the southern African resurrection plant Myrothamnus flabellifolia.

Combining phylogenetics and chemometrics, Joanne was able to show that populations from Malawi, South Africa and Namibia differ in their metabolite profiles. She also identified several discriminatory compounds that could be used as chemotaxonomic barcodes for identifying the origin of the material from the different regions.

Bronze Medal Winner: Dr Vittorio Nicolis

Dr Venter (Supervisor), Dr Nicolis, Prof Boatwright (SAAB President)

Dr Vic Nicolis was awarded the SAAB Bronze medal for his study ‘A novel integrated domain carrying nucleotide-binding leucine-rich repeat gene, Adr1, plays a role in the wheat-Russian wheat aphid interaction’.

At the outset of the study he aimed to use small RNA molecules to increase understanding of how wheat responds to aphid infestation. However, the work led to discoveries that contributed to three fields in plant interactions and genetics.

A testimonial to Vic’s dedication and contribution to the field was summed up by his external examiners remarking that he is probably one of few PhD candidates in South Africa that could have pulled of this study and that he has challenged the status quo and in true science philosopher style opened lively discussion among researchers.

Best Young Scientist Winner: Zaynab Shaik

Dr Steenhuisen (LOC), Ms Shaik, Prof Boatwright (SAAB President)

Best PhD: Ruth Cozien

Best MSc: Edith Singini

Best Honours Student: Jamie-Lee Anderson

Best Poster in Plant Systematics: Precious Tshireletso Le Roux

Best Poster in Plant Physiology: Sellwane Jeanette Moloi

Best Poster in Ethnobotany: Kaylan Reddy

Best Poster in Plant Ecology: Evalt Malesela Lebese