Nelson Mandela University Chemistry Department Engagements of 2023

2023 was a busy year for the Chemistry Department, many courses reverted back to normal examination mode with the resumption of face to face teaching engagements and practicals. To clarify, the word “engagements” broadly describes activities that range from public and school visits involving talks, science demonstrations, public lectures etc. to industrial consulting and contract work. Engagements with schools & public kicked off early in the year with some chemistry demonstrations performed at schools before the university teaching began. 
This report summarizes engagement activities of 2023.  

Science Club activity 

On 2 February the Pearson Science Club hosted a stall in conjunction with the Department to attract new members into the school’s Science Club. The strategy was successful with over 90 persons attending the first quarterly gathering was held at Pearson High School from 17:00-19:00 on 6 February along with the Alexander Road High Science Club. A variety of physics and chemistry experiments were performed by volunteers (under the guidance of Dr Rubidge and Sasha-Lee Dorfling. The event was concluded by making ice cream with liquid nitrogen as a portable freezer. 
Recipe for 10-12 servings: 1.75 cups fresh cold cream, 1.25 cups full cream cold milk, 1/8th teaspoon salt, 0.75 cups icing sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla essence, 1 teaspoon caramel essence. Stir all ingredients together to dissolve and place in a metal pot of ~ 8-10 litre capacity, add increments of liquid nitrogen while stirring until the mixture thickens and solidifies, serve into cones with vermicelli or other sprinkles. Liquid nitrogen requirement is approximately 1 litre if the cream, milk and pot are pre-cooled. 
Under the guidance of Dr Rubidge, a scholar poured liquid nitrogen onto a balloon to show the effect(drastic 
volume reduction) of temperature on a contained pocket of air.
Two workshops were run by InnoVenton; these included Starting a Cosmetics Business (14 March) and Formulating Creams and Lotions (15&16) March. During May, Dr Rubidge and Mr F Gerber resumed the pre-covid tradition of presenting a talk and exciting demonstrations on North Campus for grade 11 scholars of the Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Innovation (STEMI) group based at Missionvale Campus.

National Science week

Late July and early August was a busy time for the Chemistry Department with various activities occurring both in schools and on campus. A big thanks to Professor Benita Barton, Rekha Neglur, Fanus Gerber and Science Marketing staff who guided scholars through the organic and polymer science laboratories. 
Activities undertaken during the national Science Week are tabulated below.


19 July 2023 InnoVenton

Open Day: InnoVenton will host an open day in which learners will have a Tour of the Facility and explore the following:

  • Microalgae as a renewable resource for environmental sustainability and health
  • Biomass as an alternative energy source
  • Chemical synthesis and process development for health and agriculture
  • Formulation Science enabling entrepreneurship
20 July 2023 Chemistry

Laboratory Tours: Learners will get a tour through:

1. Organic Chemistry laboratory and the power of the analytical equipment in the Organic Chemistry section will be showcased.

2. Polymer Chemistry Laboratory

1 August 2023 Chemistry Chemistry Demonstrations for Scholars at Lawson Brown High School
2 August 2023 Chemistry Chemistry Demonstrations for Scholars at Patterson High School
3 August 2023 uYilo Facilities Tour: Battery and Materials Laboratory, Electric Vehicle Systems Laboratory and Live Testing Environment (Comprising of Electric Vehicle Charging Stations, Electric Vehicles and Smart Grid Ecosystem.
3 August 2023 Chemistry Chemistry Demonstrations for Scholars at Cowan High School 
4 August 2023 Chemistry Science Show for Eskom Expo Juniors at Missionvale
5 August 2023 Chemistry Science Show for Eskom Expo Seniors at Missionvale


Short Course in Polymer Technology

After a long hiatus, the six-month Practical Rubber Technology course for industry was once again presented by the Chemistry Department during the second semester of 2023, a real team effort and once again with huge success.  The course has become an industry benchmark due to it’s practical relevance and the high standards set.  It has frequently been used as a requirement for appointment and career advancement and has been the starting point of several senior people working in the local rubber industry.
The University had received many enquiries for the course during the recent past and particularly during the Covid pandemic.  Pandemic restrictions unfortunately made it impossible to present the course, particularly with respect to the very important aspect of the course, the practical laboratory training.  Several enquiries at the beginning of 2023 set the process in motion to get all systems in place again to be able to present the course.  Staff had to go for special training to handle administration and the laboratory/equipment and notes had to be prepared and checked that all is functional to required standards. The course kicked off during the second semester and industry students attended a full day of lectures on Mondays with theory classes in the morning and practical training sessions in the afternoons.  Several stumbling blocks had to be overcome of which load shedding with having students just for one day on campus was one of the major challenges, but the staff involved were always ready with solutions and the students and companies involved were understanding.
The course was extremely well received by students and companies alike, to the extent that there are already plans in action for the course to be repeated in 2024 and even discussions on potential further courses.
Staff and students of the 2023 short course in polymer technology



Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) Career Expo

The DPWI (Gqeberha Regional Office) organized a Career Expo on the 18 August 2023 at Ntyatyambo Primary School in Crossroads at Peddie. The Career Expo targeted Grades 10 – 12 learners from Amathole West District Schools (Ngqushwa CMC). The event was very well attended. Prof Tshentu was invited to talk about Careers in Science and Technology, and to also carry out chemistry experiments. Experiments that were carried out were flame colouration by atoms, latex coagulation into a bouncing ball and nitrocellulose combustion. Prof Tshentu received a group of learners at a time to interact with on science careers and experiments as learners were circulating in different stalls/stations. The Ngqushwa CMC has few schools that engage in Maths and Science and a lot of effort is put in place to ensure that those schools succeed. There is some improvement in pass rates for matric learners, but a lot still needs to be done in Maths and Science education in this region. 



Professor Tshentu demonstrating coagulation of latex into a rubber ball


Collaboration with St Paul’s University:

During October a collaboration between Nelson Mandela University and St Paul’s University in Limuru, Kenya proved to be a successful and fruitful endeavour. This dynamic partnership brought together experts Louise Hamilton and Nicole Vorster from Nelson Mandela University, who were invited by St Paul’s University to conduct engaging workshops at their Limuru campus for undergraduate students across various faculties including Business, IT, Health Science, and Communication.

Day One: Exploring Technology and Innovation

On the first day, Louise Hamilton took the stage to introduce the Technology Station program and delve into the fascinating world of Technology Innovation. She shared insights into the diverse activities of the Technology Station and shed light on the microalgal biorefinery. Louise captivated the audience by exploring the potential applications of microalgae in industries such as food, animal feed, and cosmetics. Emphasizing Kenya's ideal climate for microalgae cultivation, she sparked a lot of interest in the students. To wrap up the day, Louise also offered a glimpse into the entrepreneurial realm with a brief presentation on starting a cosmetic business.



Lousie Hamilton talking “Entrepreneurship”


Dr Nicole Vorster demonstrating the preparation of a cosmetic cream

Day Two: Crafting Cosmetics 

Nicole Vorster took centre stage on the second day, leading an interactive workshop on the art of making cosmetic creams and lotions. The day commenced with a comprehensive theory session, breaking down the components of creams, discussing various ingredients, and illustrating the construction of a formulated product. Nicole's live demonstration of crafting a cream captivated the audience, providing a rare and eye-opening experience. This hands-on approach inspired the students and staff who realised that creating cosmetics is a tangible skill within their reach.
The highlight of the day was when participants gathered in groups to evaluate a selection of prepared creams. The workshop concluded with a closing ceremony attended by the University’s Vice-Chancellor, featuring speeches and a certificate awarding ceremony.


Dr Nicole Vorster issuing a programme graduate with her certificate


Dr Nicole Vorster talking about cosmetic formulations

The visit proved to be a tremendous success, fostering enthusiasm and engagement among students and staff. Many expressed interest in the prospect of launching their own businesses. In recognition of the positive response, St Paul’s University has extended an invitation for Louise and Nicole to return for follow-up workshops next year. Plans are already underway to bring a larger team from Innoventon to further enrich the learning experience. Louise and Nicole extended their heartfelt gratitude to St Paul’s University for the warm welcome and enthusiastic participation. This collaboration exemplifies the power of knowledge exchange and the potential for innovation when institutions come together.

Workshops for SMEs at Innoventon during 2023

Dr Vorster also conducted two Creams and Lotions workshops during 2023 at Innoventon and on 4 and 5 December she ran workshop on focussed on Surfactant-based Formulations.
Exploring the Future: Cannabis and Hemp Development Imbizo in East London
On the 2nd of November 2023, the vibrant city of East London played host to a pivotal gathering of minds at the Cannabis and Hemp Development Imbizo, orchestrated by the Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency's Commodity Dialogues. The event drew notable attendees, including Dr Buyiswa Hlangothi and Dr Nehemiah Latolla, with Dr Lungelwa Mahanjana joining through Zoom from Nelson Mandela University, who brought their expertise as phytochemists who were invited by Program Specialist (ECRDA) Dr Langa Sunshine Blouw. 
In his opening address, the CEO of the Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency (ECRDA) set the tone for the day by emphasizing the vision for the province. "The Eastern Cape Province we want is enterprising, connected, unlocking the potential of people, and a capable developmental state," he remarked, underscoring the importance of entrepreneurship, connectivity, and developmental prowess in realizing the region's full potential.
The array of speakers assembled for the event showcased diverse perspectives, reflecting the multifaceted nature of the cannabis and hemp industry. Throughout the meeting, the conversations revolved around key themes, such as breaking free from administrative constraints, fostering investment, embracing a hands-on approach to learning, and recognizing the symbiotic relationship between the public and private sectors. The engagement also stressed the significance of higher education in equipping the workforce with the skills needed to navigate the evolving landscape of cannabis and hemp development.
A notable aspect of the discussions was the emphasis on "learning by doing," a philosophy that acknowledges the practical challenges and opportunities faced by legacy farmers transitioning into cannabis and hemp cultivation. This hands-on approach, coupled with the recognition of the importance of collaboration between the public and private sectors, sets the stage for a dynamic and sustainable industry.
As the Cannabis and Hemp Development Imbizo unfolded, it became evident that the participants were not merely discussing the future; they were actively shaping it. The collaborative spirit and wealth of insights shared by experts and stakeholders promise a future where the Eastern Cape Province stands as a beacon of innovation, entrepreneurship, and sustainable development in the cannabis and hemp industry. Dr Buyiswa Hlangothi and Dr Nehemiah Latolla's presence (with Dr Lungelwa Mahanjana online) at this event exemplified the commitment of experts to contribute to the growth and prosperity of the region, marking a significant milestone in the journey towards unlocking the full potential of cannabis and hemp in the Eastern Cape.
Right to Left: Dr Buyiswa Hlangothi, Dr Langa Sunshine Blouw, and Dr Nehemiah Latolla
Doctoral student in Chemistry Olwethu Poswayo has won the 2023 Global Challenges University Alliance (GCUA) 2030 award.
First prize winner Olwethu Poswayo,  together with second and third prize winners Shaik Abdullah, and Michael Gräf.
Her project titled, “Optimization of utilization of biomass for production of bio-oil and its hydro-processing to produce quality biofuel” scooped the first prize of 3500 Euro.
She also won an all-expenses paid trip to Sweden to present a seminar on her research during the GCUA’s meeting from 30 January to 1 February at Haga Slott, Enköping, Sweden. 
The adjudicators commented the following about her research, “This high-quality research focuses on the important topic of combining algae and coal into coalgae composites, which can be a part of meeting the energy demand, protect the environment and can be further optimised to reduce the greenhouse gases.
“Ms Poswayo succeeds to effectively communicate the results in a clear way and explains very well how her research contributes to global sustainable development with a focus on SDG 7 –“Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” and SDG 13 – Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”.
The second prize went to Shaid Abdullah Nawabjan, from Hong Kong University and third prize to, Michael Gräf of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna.
Nelson Mandela University is an member of GCUA and encourages staff and students to participate in different GCUA activities.
In July Dr Zikhona Tywabi-Ngeva won the best ‘In-person speaker’ award at the 14th Green Chemistry Postgraduate Summer School in Venice, Italy.
Masters student, Ludewikus Vorster, participated in the Young Persons' World Lecture Competition online final on Wednesday 8 November 2023 and won the international finals at IoM3(Institute of Materials). 
Mr DW McFarlane won the well-deserved SACI award- THE JAMES MOIR MEDAL awarded to the best fourth year student in chemistry at each University and University of Technology.  To be eligible for the award the student must have achieved a minimum average final pass mark of 75%.