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Tebello Nyokong - SA's superstar scientist

South Africa's superstar scientist, Dr Tebello Nyokong, added another string to her already impressive bow this week when she was awarded her third Honorary Doctorate, to join the groaning mantelpiece of honours already bestowed on her.

These include:

  • 2004 awarded the Order of Mapungubwe: Bronze

  • 2009 L'Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science

  • 2010 Inducted into the Lesotho Hall of fame

  • 2010 Honorary doctorate from the Walter Sisulu University

  • 2010 Honorary doctorate from the University of South Africa

  • 2011 Honored by the Royal Society in Chemistry/Pan African Chemistry Network as a Distinguished Woman in Chemistry

  • 2012 Awarded South African Chemical Institute (SACI) Gold Medal

  • 2013 Awarded National Research Foundation's Lifetime Achievement Award.

Her latest doctorate is from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, recognising her "outstanding contribution to South Africa as an extraordinary researcher whose remarkable spirit, hard work and dedication continues to uplift the South African science system".

Dr Nyokong graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in both chemistry and biology from the University of Lesotho in 1977. She went on to earn her master's in chemistry from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.

In 1987, she received her Ph.D in chemistry from the University of Western Ontario, and was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to continue her post-doctoral studies at the University of Notre Dame in the United States.

On her return from the US, Nyokong taught briefly at the University of Lesotho before joining Rhodes University in 1992 as a lecturer. Impressed by the quality of her work, the Foundation for Research Development (now the National Research Foundation) soon provided her with a rating which allowed her to set up a research laboratory at the university. It was the start of a rapid climb to the positions of senior lecturer, associate professor and fully-fledged professor.

Nyokong is currently engaged in ground-breaking research on a new cancer diagnosis and treatment methodology called “photo-dynamic therapy’ which is intended as an alternative to chemotherapy.

The new therapy is based on using the dye which is used to colour blue denim clothing, and which is inert and harmless by itself but can be activated by exposure to a red laser beam. The system, which has been approved in some countries, reportedly does not destroy hair or healthy cells or cause nausea.

In addition to her research, she is extensively involved in training chemists, particularly women, in the sophisticated skills needed to keep South Africa at the cutting edge of scientific development.


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