University of Pretoria to host first Nobel Prize Dialogue to take place in Africa

University of Pretoria (UP) student Bianca Gevers is one of six women who recently received a grant from the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science South African National Young Talents programme.

“The prize is a R80 000 grant that I will use to enhance my scientific profile and increase the quality of my research work,” says Gevers, who is pursuing a PhD in Chemical Engineering. “This includes techniques that would be difficult to access with the funding available for my project through other means.”

Gevers’ research focuses on material development for photocatalytic water-splitting: the use of sunlight to produce hydrogen and oxygen from water with the help of photoactive catalysts.

This year marks the second edition of the programme, which was created in 1998 and aims to improve the representation of women in scientific careers. The six researchers, three doctoral and three postdoctoral candidates, were selected by a jury of independent experts from more than 150 applicants.

“I felt absolutely elated when I received the phone call to let me know that I’d been chosen for the PhD grant,” says Gevers. “I am incredibly grateful that they saw something in me and my application. Renewable energy is a topic that I’m very passionate about. Our environment and society are in dire need of protection and a paradigm shift in the way that we consider our impact on the world.”

L’Oréal South Africa manager Gilles Antoine says science will provide solutions for many of the unprecedented challenges that the world is currently facing. “This is why L’Oréal and UNESCO have been empowering young female scientists for 22 years – more than 3 400 researchers from 118 countries have been supported and recognised,” he says.

“Women in science have the power to change the world, provided they are given the means and support. This year, as we honour six emerging women scientists from across South Africa, we reaffirm our commitment to supporting young women scientists who are at the helm of very important research projects.”

Recently, Gevers won the Young Persons’ Lecture Competition in South Africa, while also placing second in the Young Persons’ World Lecture Competition. The competition, which was hosted by the UK-based Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, invites students and professionals up to the age of 28 to deliver a short lecture on a subject related to materials, minerals, mining, engineering and more.

Her presentation was titled ‘Engineering Photoactive Materials for Renewable Energy Generation’. “The engineering of photoactive materials concerns changing the properties of materials used in renewable energy generation,” Gevers explains. “There are several properties that must be understood, tailored and perfected in a material for it to be functional for advanced applications. Engineering these properties means changing them, studying them and, hopefully, being able to predict (to some extent) sensical alterations to increase their activity.”

The PhD candidate hopes to use the grant to the best of her abilities to inspire future generations – especially young female scientists in renewable energy research in particular – and contribute to solving problems faced by society.