Cape-born scientist Dr S. George Philander has scooped a coveted award for an achievement in the earth sciences by winning the 2017 Vetslesen prize together with Mark A Cane from Columbia University. The two untangled the complex forces that drive the El Niño  weather cycle.

Dr Philander, currently at Princeton University was born in  Cape Town in 1942. A brilliant student, he escaped Apartheid by gaining admission to Harvard University.

In 1970, he earned a PhD. in applied mathematics, based on his research into equatorial ocean currents. He carried out postdoctoral research into fluid dynamics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and soon moved to Princeton, where he is now a professor of geosciences.

Dr Philander returns to South Africa periodically to teach. In 2007, he began organizing workshops to introduce South African undergraduate students, particularly those from poor families, to the earth sciences. He is also the founder of the  Applied Centre for Climate and Earth Systems Science, an interagency organization in South Africa that promotes education and research opportunities for students. In 2007, the University of Cape Town awarded him an honorary doctorate. In addition to more than 100 peer-reviewed papers, he is the author of four books, including Our Affair With El Niño, and The Encyclopedia of Global Warming and Climate Change.