School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

RSSAf honourees, Professors Bice Martincigh and Trevor Hill.

Royal Society Honours UKZN Academics

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Two prominent UKZN academics have been honoured by the Royal Society of South Africa (RSSAf).

Eminent Professor of Chemistry Bice Martincigh received a Fellowship for her achievements in applying the principles of physical chemistry to solve problems related to health or the environment, while Professor Trevor Hill of the Discipline of Geography takes on a three-year term as editor of the society’s Transactions of the Royal Society journal.

For Martincigh, the prestigious Fellowship of the RSSAf, South Africa’s leading multi-disciplinary scientific organisation for well over a century, is in recognition of her scientific standing in her field, locally and internationally.

‘This recognition from the Royal Society is a great honour for me and an acknowledgement of my work and involvement in various spheres, and I am deeply humbled by it,’ she said.

Martincigh has been at UKZN since 1990 when she joined the then University of Natal – also her alma mater – as a lecturer in Physical Chemistry. She completed all of her studies through to PhD on the Howard College campus, honing her skills in the removal of contaminants by focusing her doctoral studies on coordination complexes that revealed what determined the strength of the bond of nitrogen donor atoms to the metal ion.

Martincigh, a keen researcher with a passion for uncovering new knowledge, has focused on photochemistry, environmental chemistry, solution thermodynamics and nanotechnology.

In the area of photochemistry she investigated the active ingredients in sunscreen products and their interaction with light to determine what happens when the topical products degrade in terms of their efficacy and effect on the human body.

More recent research has involved the analysis of wastewater in the Durban area for trace organic pollutants of various types and attempts at remediation of this critical resource through the preparation of nanomaterials that act as adsorbents or photocatalysts. Martincigh is also involved in projects investigating environmental contamination caused by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls and flame-retardant chemicals.

A dedicated teacher, Martincigh was the recipient of a Distinguished Teachers’ Award from UKZN in 2012, and enjoys presenting knowledge to students by tailoring it for their level of understanding. She has contributed to the development of the next generation of chemists in South Africa, training almost 50 postgraduate students to date and has used her knowledge of physical chemistry to promote science to school learners, assisting for many years with organising the annual FFS Expo for Young Scientists and serving as a magician at the annual SA Chemical Institute’s (SACI) KwaZulu-Natal Magic Show.

Martincigh has held visiting professorships at West Virginia University and Portland State University in the United States; the University of Wales in Cardiff, and the Gandhi Institute of Technology and Management in India. A Fellow of and former President of the SACI as well as a recipient of its Merck medal, she is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, and a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa.

‘I wish to thank the University and all the many colleagues and students who have enabled me to be where I am today,’ she said.

Hill, Academic Leader of Research and Higher Degrees in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, has expertise in contemporary pollen analysis, paleo-climatic reconstruction, natural resource management, Geographic Information Systems and biogeography. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and former co-editor of the South African Geographical Journal.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photographs: Supplied