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Top UKZN Academic and Researcher Wins NSTF 'Science Oscar'

2017/06/30 04:07:20 PM

Prof Colleen Downs wins the 2017 (NSTF)-South32 Award for Research Capacity Development other than Engineering.

Top UKZN Academic and Researcher Wins NSTF 'Science Oscar'
Top UKZN academic and researcher, Professor Colleen Downs, was announced as the winner of the 2017 (NSTF)-South32 Award for Research Capacity Development other than Engineering.

The South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Ecosystem Health and Biodiversity in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, Professor Colleen Downs, was announced the winner of one of the 13 highly acclaimed National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)-South32 Awards. Downs received the award for Research Capacity Development other than Engineering by individuals over the last 5-10 years. Winners were announced on the 29 June at a gala dinner in Gauteng.

‘This is wonderful news for the University of KwaZulu-Natal,’ said Vice-Chancellor of the University, Dr Albert van Jaarsveld. ‘Professor Downs has set the pace at the university in terms of her research productivity over numerous years, and this is recognition of her pivotal role in training the next generation of young researchers. 

‘This recognition at a national level is well deserved and her achievements are celebrated across the University.’
Downs dedicated her Award to ‘all those who make a difference every day in science and technology, but never get recognition for it – from grade 1 teachers up.’

Initiated in 1998, the NSTF-South32 Awards - dubbed the Science Oscars of South Africa - recognise outstanding contributions to science, engineering and technology (SET) and innovation in South Africa for researchers and other SET-related professionals. 
In addition to receiving he Research Capacity Development Award, Downs was a finalist in two other categories: the Lifetime Award (in recognition of an individual’s achievements over a period of 15 years or more); and the NSTF-GreenMatter Award (for contributions to biodiversity, conservation, environmental sustainability and a greener economy).

Selection as a finalist in three categories was a considerable achievement given the growing profile of the awards, the quality of nominations and the competition the nominees faced.

Downs has been recognised nationally and globally for her work in biology, particularly in terrestrial vertebrate ecology, having conducted research on animals from Nile crocodiles to hadedas. Her more than 200 publications reach a wide audience, helping her meet her goal of furthering and communicating science. She has also been featured on popular platforms such as BBC Earth.

Downs is consistently named the top-published woman academic at UKZN, and has supervised more than 60 post-graduate students. She is currently honorary president of BirdLife South Africa, and her international recognitions include Fellowship of the International Ornithologists’ Union (IOU) and associate editor of the British Ornithologists’ Union’s (BOU) IBIS journal and of the international journal, Urban Ecosystems.

A particular focus area for her is how changing land use affects biodiversity and ecosystem health, including exploration of the urban ecology of various species and their persistence. She sees anthropogenic environmental change with changing land use as an important conservation issue in the short term, and climate change in the long term.

Downs chairs the Cape Parrot Working Group and, going beyond her academic activities, has contributed to the annual Cape Parrot Big Birding Day for 20 years.

The institution of these awards is part of the NSTF’s vision to work towards a transformed country where SET and innovation contribute to a higher quality of life for all South Africans, and where the profiles of SET professionals are representative of the population and where the education system, particularly for SET and innovation, is effective.  


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