Professor Tebello Nyokong

Today, 27 August, the National Research Foundation (NRF), at its NRF Awards Ceremony in Port Elizabethhonoured a resident academic of Rhodes University'swith its Lifetime Achievement Award. Professor Tebello Nyokong is currently a Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Rhodes University, a holder of the DST-NRF Research Chair in Medicinal Chemistry and Nanotechnology, as well as Director of the DST-Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre focusing onsensors.

Through the years, Prof Nyokong has dedicated herself at both the local and international levels to not only advance the frontiers of scientific research but also served as a role model for women and previously disadvantaged individuals in science. Her international profile has contributed largely to enhancing the reputation of South African and African science. She has undertaken formal international collaborations with counterparts in a number of countries, and has been awarded a prestigious Adjunct Professorship by the University of Tromso in Norway. Many international scientists have been drawn to visit South Africa by her work and her laboratory at Rhodes Universitywhere she has hosted numerous post-doctoral candidates from around the world.


“We are privileged to have an academic and scientist of Prof. Nyokong’s stature in our National System of Innovation. She is an exceptional role model and her outstanding work in training the next generation of chemists, especially women chemists, contributes to ensuring that our country remains at the cutting edge of scientific development. The many accolades that she has received are testimony to the fact that she is a world-class scientist, with whom we are proud to be associated,” said the Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom.


Born in Maseru, Lesotho, Prof. Nyokong obtained her BSc in Chemistry and Biology as well as a concurrent Certificate in Education from the University of Lesotho in 1977. With funding from the Canadian International Development Agency, she was able to complete her Master's degree at McMaster University and her PhD in Chemistry at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, where she also worked as a Teaching Assistant.


Professor Tebello Nyokong is one of those rare individuals who has, in the course of her career, as a researcher, established a long and admirable track record. Her work has not distinguished her in the South African science and research community, but has also contributed significantly to areas of social and economic importance to South Africa and the world. She has been at the forefront of developments important for the effective treatment of cancer through her contributions in photodynamic therapy and has contributed to the fabrication of molecular sensors for various environmentally, biologically and medically important applications. She has registered a patent and published/co-published eight books and book chapters. In addition, she has authored/co-authored more than 430 articles in refereed journals such as the New Journal of Chemistry, Polyhedron, and the Journal of Physical Chemistry. In 2007 she was recognised by the NRF as one of the top three publishing scientists in South Africa. She has also served as Editor of the African Journal of Pure and Applied Chemistry as well as on the Editorial Boards of the International Journal of Electrochemical Science, and Scientific World Journal.


While her research has garnered considerable recognition, she also invests a huge amount of time and energy into bringing previously disadvantaged students, particularly women, into the scientific mainstream. She is a supreme role model who has supervised a total of 73 Master's, doctoral and post-doctoral students and is currently supervising another 25. An impressively high number of her MSc students under her supervision have achieved distinctions. She has also been extensively involved in assisting staff and students from less advantaged universities.


Her list of accolades is extensive and includes numerous awards such as the Fulbright Award, the SA Chemical Institute's Gold Medal, the Royal Society in Chemistry and Pan African Chemistry Network Distinguished Women in Chemistry award, the L'Oreal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science representing Africa and the Arab States and, in 2005, was presented the Order of Mapungubwe: Bronze by then President Thabo Mbeki. She has been awarded the Third World Academy of Science Medal for 2013 for outstanding contribution to Science and Technology, which will be presented to her in Argentina this year.  She has also received a number of honorary doctorates in science and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Third World Academy of Science, and is a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa. In 2012, she was included in the exhibition of the National Center for Research on Human Evolution, Spain, as one of 12 Names Likely to site2016 the World.


Prof. Nyokong is widely regarded as a continental icon. What she has achieved in scholarly terms is quite staggering, as assessed by volume, impact, and influence of her work nationally and internationally. She exudes passion for science - doing science, teaching science, promoting science, financing science, applying science, and contributing to national and international policy and strategy to foster and grow scientific research in developing countries. Most particularly, Prof. Nyokong is passionate about passing on knowledge. Her students are her life, as is evidenced by her many graduates currently carving their own careers across the globe.


"If anyone has had the priviledge of having known and worked with Prof Nyokong, as I have, one will know that she is a passionate and tireless researcher and mentor. Her peers view her as a champion and leader in field of research," said NRF CEO, Dr Albert van Jaarsveld. In all these years of her involvement in research, academia and science she has been, and remains, one of the brightest jewels that this continent has produced."


About the NRF Lifetime Achievement Award:

The Lifetime Achiever award honours a deserving South African individual who is considered to have made outstanding or extraordinary contribution(s) to the development of science in and for South Africa over an extended period of time. These contributions must be of international standard and impact.


The candidate for the Lifetime Achievement award must fulfil the following criteria:

·           Be a South African citizen or permanent resident generally above 60 years of age;

·           Her/his science/innovation-related contribution and/or achievements in and for South Africa must be of international standard and have been recognised internationally;

·           Must have made a contribution to the lives of South Africans, through her/his science/innovation-related work and achievements that can be categorised as being significant, recognisably developmental, beneficial and have made significant impact; and

·           Need not be associated with a research or higher education institution at the point of being recognised for this award.