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SA's top women scientists honoured

Prof Soraya Bardien, Dr Evodia Setati and Prof Kaen Esler

Meet South Africa's top Women Researchers in the Natural and Engineering Sciences: Professor Soraya Bardien, Dr Evodia Setati and Professor Karen Esler.

The women walked off with top honours at the 2018 South African Women in Science Awards (SAWiSA) ceremony at the weekend.

Dr Evodia Setatia (centre) was named overall winner in the category Distinguished Woman Researchers in Natural (Life and Physical) and Engineering Sciences for her work on the microbial ecology of the vineyard and wine fermentation ecosystem and how this is influenced by farming practices.

Category runner-up Professor Karen Esler was honoured for research excellence in ecology, including ecosystem restoration and invasion biology, while second runner-up Professor Soraya Bardien was recognised for her work on Parkinson's disease, specifically the genetic causes and mechanism underlying this condition in South African patients.

All three women are attached to the University of Stellenbosch.

A senior research at the Institute for Wine Biotechnology in the Department of Viticulture and Oenology, Setati's research has contributed to an improved understanding of the South African vineyard and wine fermentation microbiome and its possible contribution to wine chemical and sensorial properties.

The award, she said, was "a sign of progression, it means I am finally reaping the fruits of my labour and for my work it means more exposure to potential collaborators especially from historically disadvantaged institutions. It is an important recognition for the relevance and impact of my research.”

The NRF-rated researcher has published a number of peer-reviewed articles in leading international journals and also supervised many postgraduate students. She is a member of the South African Society of Microbiology as well as the South African Society for Enology and Viticulture. Sesati is also a commissioner on the International Commission for Yeasts, a trustee on the Pioneer Foods Education and Community Trust, and a sub-editor on the South African Journal for Enology and Viticulture.

Prof Esler is considered a world leader in her field and has supervised many postgraduate students.

“I feel privileged to be counted among the winners. Research is rewarding and exciting and if I can continue to promote women in higher education by providing a role model to others, I’d be satisfied,” she said.

Prof Bardien is the chairperson of the Southern African Society for Human Genetics and sits on the steering committee of the Southern African Human Genome Programme. She also serves on the Specialist Committee of National Research Foundation for rating South African researchers (in the Health Sciences category).

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