School of Life Sciences

UKZN’s 2021 Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium Opens on 9 December

More than 200 presenters will discuss their research while representatives of about 20 companies will speak on their organisations and job opportunities available during the 2021 Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium (PRIS) being hosted online on 9 and 10 December by UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES).

The Symposium provides an opportunity for CAES students to showcase their research to their peers, academics and other research partners. Awards will be made for the best presentations.

Three of the students from the School of Engineering presenting during the Symposium are Ms Phyllis R Kwenda, Ms Naomi Kingu and Mr Antoine Badi.

Ms Phyllis R Kwenda – Community-Based Management of Household Solid Waste for Harare, Zimbabwe: A System Dynamics Approach, is the title of the paper Kwenda will present at PRIS 2021.

Kwenda has made presentations at a variety of conferences and seminars during the past three years and is looking forward to improving her research through feedback from the PRIS audience.

Kwenda, who has recently submitted the presentation she will make during the conference as her thesis for her PhD in Bioresources Systems, holds an MSc in Bioresources Systems, BSc (Hons) in Microbiology, and a BSc in Industrial and Applied Biotechnology (cum laude). She is a member of the Golden Key society and holds numerous short course certificates. To expand her knowledge in her field of interest, Kwenda has attended summer schools on the managing waste and the system dynamic, and has worked as a teaching assistant at high school and university levels.

A highly motivated researcher, a variety of factors contributed to her decision to pursue research in the field of proper solid waste management the results of which, she says, have the potential to address 11 of the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), to mitigate climate change, ensure environmental preservation and safeguard human health, and thus protect the future of generations to come.

‘Life is very short, but I believe each one of us has an assignment to complete and a purpose to understand. Not only for what there is to gain but what there is to give,’ said Kwenda, who believes in doing research that gives back to family, friends, community, city, country, continent and the world. ‘Science, when used responsibly, is a tool to help understand and protect our home, earth.’

Her study is based in Harare, Zimbabwe as a case study of a developing country. The city has poor solid waste management with household solid waste (HSW) not only the most complex type of solid waste due to its non-homogeneity but also the majority of the solid waste generated in the city. With the Harare municipality lacking in terms of human resources in both the financial and technical fields, the study explored a community-based approach to HSW management.

Kwenda, whose work has been published in the Waste Management and Research Journal, is in the process of publishing three more papers

Ms Naomi Kingu – The Use of Sustainability Within Innovation and Technology in the Improvement of Sustainable Communities is the title of a presentation Kingu will deliver at the Symposium.

Kingu has been a Golden Key honour award holder since 2014 and was the winner of an Erasmus Plus Scholarship in 2017/2018. In 2019/2020 she assisted in lecturing Construction Economics in second-year and third-year classes in the Construction Engineering Department at UKZN.

Other achievements include graduating with a cum laude MSc degree, receiving a Delegate Certificate of Attendance to the International Cost Engineering Congress (ICEC) (2012), and a Habitat for Humanity International Certificate for Crew Leadership (2007).

Kingu was an Assistant Quality Control Manager from 2014 to 2016 in the construction of the Mount Edgecombe Interchange outside Durban.

She decided to participate in PRIS 2021 because of the innovation aspects of the Symposium. ‘This is an exciting opportunity to create ideas through research and industry involvement to provide global solutions.’

The focus of her PhD thesis which she will present at the symposium is on sustainable regenerative communities. ‘Socio-economic aspects such as health and wellbeing, education and unemployment are among challenges faced by our world,’ said Kingu. ‘These challenges are magnified by rapid urban shifts and unplanned settlements.’

She says her research provides sustainable solutions towards resolving challenges faced by sub-Saharan countries and whether they could be used globally.

‘Inspiration for the research came from the idea of nature and mankind co-existing,’ said Kingu, who watched construction and civil engineering documentaries and Discovery TV channels as a youngster which she believes steered her interest towards mega construction projects.

Her favourite quote is by the CEO of Harley-Davidson Jochen Zeitz: ‘Sustainability is no longer about doing less harm, it’s about doing more good.’

Kingu’s research has been published in conference proceedings and she has participated in a variety of conferences including the DATA + AI Summit Europe in 2020 and several annual international conferences of the Association of Schools of Construction of Southern Africa (ASOCSA).

She has also presented her research in Italy and South Africa during lectures and at meetings with “Green Building Councils”, municipalities, professionals and academics.

Mr Antoine Badi – Combining Local Descriptors and Clustering Methods for Human Emotion Recognition, is the title of Badi’s presentation.

Badi of Cameroon, currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering, arrived in South Africa two years after completing his school leaving exams and registered at UKZN for a four-year Computer Engineering degree. During his studies he was awarded two Dean’s Commendations and several Certificates of Merit.

‘I received scholarships in my first- and second-years thanks to my excellent academic performance,’ said Badi. ‘In third-year, UKZN identified me as being among the top 15% of achievers on my course. In the same year, I received invitations to join the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Honour Society and the Golden Key Society.’

His decision to study Computer Engineering was spurred by his interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and how it is portrayed in movies as a futuristic technology which could enable robots to take over the world. ‘My research made me very aware that AI is already here and has many practical applications. My interest in AI and human-computer interactions makes this topic the perfect match for me.’

His master’s research involves using computer vision and AI to read facial expressions and recognise emotions. Human emotion recognition (HER) is a growing area of research due to the increased adoption of assistive technology and human-computer interactions. Key areas of application include service robots, assistive technology for disabled people, driver safety, audience attentiveness in video conferencing, video-gaming, and customer reviews.

‘My research provides insight into the proficiency of existing approaches in relation to various contexts and specific factors that could enhance future HER systems.

‘One of my dreams is to have a positive impact on the world,’ added Badi.

To find out more about the research work of these students as well as other CAES researchers at PRIS 2021, visit www.pris.ukzn.ac.za

Words: Sinegugu Samantha Ngcongo

Photographs: Supplied