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UFS researchers nominated for Science Oscars



Staff Reporter

Two researchers from the University of the Free State (UFS) have been nominated for the Science Oscars for their outstanding work and contributions to science over the years.

The university said plant sciences research fellow, Professor Zakkie Pretorius, and the director for the Centre for Environmental Management, Professor Paul Oberholster, were nominated for the 2019/2020 National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) – South32 Awards. 

Pretorius was nominated in two categories; the Special Annual Theme Award: Research and Development and Innovation in Plant Health as well as the Lifetime category.

The Special Annual Theme Awards are presented in recognition of the International Year of Plant Health, 2020, as declared by the United Nations.

Oberholster was nominated for the NSTF-Water Research Commission Award.

This award is for an outstanding contribution to science, engineering, technology and innovation in South Africa.

The nomination is in terms of sustainable water management, knowledge generation and solutions over the past five to 10 years.

It is also awarded in recognition of demonstrated leadership and impact.

“The NSTF-South32 Awards are referred to as the ‘Science Oscars’ of South Africa and are the largest, most comprehensive, and sought-after national awards of its kind in the country. It was also the first science awards in South Africa,” the UFS said in a statement.

Oberholster said it was a privilege to be nominated and selected as finalist.

“I always believe the best person will win the award. At this level of competition, it can go both ways,” he said.

“I was nominated by the university for my scientific contribution to water resource management in South Africa over the past 10 years, with special reference to the field of passive wastewater treatment.”

Oberholster has previously been nominated in the innovation category but this is the first time he has been nominated for the NSTF – Water Research Commission Award.

Pretorius, who has extensive expertise in diseases of field crops – specifically rust diseases of small grain cereal crops – was recently awarded honorary membership by the Southern African Plant Breeders’ Association.

APPRECIATION . . . Professor Paul Oberholster is set to be recognised for his outstanding contribution to science, engineering, technology and innovation in South Africa


UFS scientist aims to revolutionise access to solar energy



Staff Reporter

University of the Free State (UFS) award-winning scientist Emmie Chiyindiko is working on an ambitious project that could vastly improve solar energy efficiency under long periods of limited sunshine at a third of the current cost.

Chiyindiko, who came second when she pitched her research idea at the Falling Walls Science Summit held in Germany recently, told The Free Stater her project could bring solar energy to the over one billion people who have no access to electricity across the world.

“My research in dye-sensitised solar cells (DSSC) with special metal complexes is among the most interesting alternatives to conventional solar cells,” said Chiyindiko, who is pursuing a PhD in chemistry.

She said the design of the cells is inspired by photosynthesis, a process used by plants to transform sunlight into energy using chlorophyll, the green matter in a leaf.

“Instead of a leaf, the cells start with a porous, transparent film of eco-friendly titanium dioxide nanoparticles,” she explained.

“The film is coated with a range of different dyes and the cells are optimised for specific wavelengths of light.

“When sunlight hits, it excites electrons in the dye. There is movement of energy-excited electrons through the nanoparticles . . . electrolyte for harvest and back to the dye creates an endless supply of energy.”

According to the 28-year-old scientist, DSSC are three times cheaper than conventional cells, more reliable and produce 40 percent more energy.

“These next-generation cells work impeccably in low light and non-direct sunlight conditions, producing energy all year-round energy with minimum disruptions,” she added.

Chiyindiko’s award-winning pitch was titled “Breaking the Wall of Darkness”.

The conference, whose name is inspired by the pulling down in 1989 of the Berlin Wall which divided the then East and West Germany, is described as a unique international platform for leaders from the fields of science, business, politics, the arts and others.

Elaborating the electricity gap between rich and poor nations, Chiyindiko said people in California use more electricity playing video games than what Malawi, Mozambique and South Sudan use in total.

She said ending energy poverty across the globe is key to improving production as well as people’s lives.

“There is a huge gap between the energy haves and the energy have-nots,” said Chiyindiko.

“As we rethink the structure of post-COVID economies and societies, we need to invest in these new technologies and systems.

“We are on the cusp of an energy revolution . . .”

She pointed out that her research seeks to provide affordable, abundant and reliable clean power to build livelihoods, improve health outcomes, grow income and opportunity as well as empower communities while tackling climate change.

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5G arrives in Free State



Staff Reporter

The high-speed 5G mobile network is now available in the Free State after Vodacom switched on the fifth-generation technology for broadband cellular networks in Mangaung today.

In a statement, Vodacom said the 5G network is currently available on five live 5G sites in the province and supports both mobile and fixed wireless access services.

“Vodacom customers with 5G-enabled devices, and within a 5G coverage area, are now able to access the new 5G network in the Free State province,” read part of the statement.

In May 2020, Vodacom switched on South Africa’s first live 5G mobile network in three cities – Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.

This network supports both mobile and fixed wireless services and is currently available in Gauteng, the Western Cape, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.

The company said to launch the 5G network in Free State, it used the temporary spectrum assigned by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), specifically 1×50 MHz in the 3.5 GHz band.

Vodacom has decided to use the 700 MHz band for wide scale mobile, 5G coverage and is supplementing network capacity with 3.5 GHz where required.

Vodacom central region managing executive Evah Mthimunye says the hi-tech rollout should help speed up digital transformation in the province.

“We are pleased to bring the 5G network footprint to the Free State,” said Mthimunye in the statement. 

“This is part of phase one rollout and we are currently preparing for the second phase. 

“The 5G network is going to play a vital role in accelerating digital transformation in various industries across the province. 

“This is a demonstration of our commitment to invest in the latest networks to bridge the digital divide.”

Other districts in the Free State and Northern Cape provinces are expected to go live later this month.

Vodacom says 5G is the newest iteration of its global mobile networking standard.

“It promises much higher download and upload speeds, lower latency – the time it takes for a connected service to respond to your command – and far greater capacity, speed and increased coverage,” according to the company.

5G offers three major advantages:

  • Speed: 5G is around 10 times faster than 4G. It is designed to work at average speeds of 150-200Mbps, and peak speeds can reach above 1Gbps. This means people will be able to download a full 4K film in around 3 minutes, compared to over 15 minutes on 4G.
  • Low latency: latency is the time it takes for a device connected to an online service to respond to your inputs or instructions, otherwise known as lag. Reducing this time lag is crucial in making virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications faster to respond, for example.
  • Huge capacity: this means that it can handle lots of people and services accessing the network at the same time, even in densely populated areas.

Some of the things 5G network can deliver include:

  • High 4k and 8K video quality movies, cloud gaming, remote education and remote healthcare.
  • Download movies much faster and stream games without any interruptions.
  • Carry out remote surgery in near real time using robotic arms.
  • Benefit from AR guidance and training via smart glasses or car windscreens.
  • Help drones co-operate in emergency situations.
  • Enable smart city infrastructure (such as traffic lights) more efficiently.
  • Provide faster speeds and this increase in speed will allow IoT devices, including those with healthcare and industry applications, to communicate and share data faster than ever.

Vodacom says more 5G devices are expected to become accessible to South Africans in future. 

It says already more cost-effective 5G-enabled smartphones are being introduced around the world and the country should catch up soon.

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Use of advanced technology expected to ease stock theft



Staff Reporter

Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development MEC William Bulwane believes the use of drones and digital trackers to monitor the movement of livestock could help improve security on the farms and allow emerging farmers to grow.

According to the MEC, most farmers along the SA border with Lesotho have struggled with stock theft and farm attacks for a long time and he anticipates a new initiative launched by his department on Friday to reduce the high crime rate and allow farmers to focus more on their operations.

“We felt it important to help farmers improve security on their farms using drones and trackers for their livestock,” said Bulwane during the launch of the Risk Management Solution Programme near Wepener.

The programme is aimed at assisting farmers to minimise the loss of livestock, crops and different equipment through the use of technology.

Bulwane said farmers around Wepener, Ladybrand, Thaba Nchu, Botshabelo as well as areas along the Caledon River, Fouriesmith up to Bethlehem have been complaining a lot about stock theft.

The Intelligent Animal Tracking System is expected to help curb the growing problem of stock theft.

“We have been looking at ways to address this . . . at times we did spontaneous patrols using a police helicopter but it didn’t help much,” said Bulwane.

“We wanted something that could give a permanent solution to these problems.

“We then decided to use the drones so that the farmers are able to check on their cattle on their own.

“The system is linked to their cellphones and they keep track of their livestock from wherever they are.”

The drones will not be given to individual farmers but will be allocated to groups and operated by a qualified drone pilot.

The first beneficiaries of the initiative are emerging and large-scale farmers in the Mangaung Metro.

These include farmers in the commonages around Thaba Nchu and Botshabelo as well as commercial farmers from Wepener and Bainsvlei.

About R4.5 million has been allocated for this programme to support 156 farmers.

They will be provided with about 1 706 solar-powered livestock tracking devices.

At least 32 vehicles will also be fitted with the anti-hijack tracking devices.

The programme is set to be rolled out to other parts of the province soon.

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