Young Researchers Fly Mintek Flag at Graduation

Two Mintek researchers, Jeffrey Baloyi and Zikhona Njenjele have become some of the youngest employees in Mintek to obtain PhDs in Catalysis and Medical Biochemistry respectively from the University of the Witwatersrand.  Baloyi and Njenjele work as research scientists in the Catalysis Research and the Centre for Metal-based Drug Discovery (CMDD) units in the Advanced Materials Division.

For Baloyi’s PhD, he investigated the development of pillared clays as novel heterogeneous catalysts for wastewater treatment advanced oxidation processes.Commenting on his achievement Baloyi said, “I have always viewed my undergraduate studies as an exercise designed to test my memory, rather than my intelligence, hence I enrolled for Master’s after my Bachelor’s degree.”

Baloyi grew up in the poverty stricken village of Giyani in Limpopo Province and joined Mintek in 2013 as a chemical engineering graduate intern. While at Mintek he continued his studies on a part-time basis and later obtained a Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering, followed recently by a PhD.

His research is inspired by citizen science, to address current challenges of water shortages in Africa. South Africa is ranked as the 30th driest country in the world and this has inspired Baloyi to come up with solutions to address drinking water problems by designing robust catalytic wastewater reactors.

Baloyi said, “in the event of Water running out, it cannot be manufactured or imported, as we do with other things. I believe that scientists have a moral obligation to provide clean water. For this reason, my PhD focused on water research and the design of robust wastewater reactors.”

“Since doctoral research differs from research at other levels in that it must contribute new knowledge to the field, I was interested in embarking on a journey that can challenge me to get out of my comfort zone and make an international contribution to knowledge,” explained Baloyi.

Njejele’s PhD research titled “Purification and Biophysical Characterization of HIV-1 Vpu and Identification of Novel Drug Molecules” focused on an important interaction that occurs between HIV and the host.

Njenjele who hails from King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape, started her Master’s degree at University of the Witwatersrand in 2014. Due to the quality of the research, it was then converted into a PhD.

She said, “My research project was a collaboration between the University of the Witwatersrand and the CMDD research group at Mintek where I conducted the majority of my research”.

My childhood love for human biology inspired me to undertake research in HIV because I believe that as an African scientist, it is important to focus on problems that affect millions of Africans daily,” she said.