Two professors from the University of Johannesburg (UJ) have received gold medals from the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) for pioneering scientific thinking for the benefit of society.
Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, UJ’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal and UJ Professor of Social Work, Leila Patel scooped the Science-for-Society Gold Medals for 2020 at ASSAf’s virtual Annual Awards Ceremony on Wednesday, 14 October.
The gold medals are ASSAf’s highest recognition, bestowed on outstanding individuals in scientific thinking. Up to two gold medals are awarded annually on South Africa’s foremost scholars in recognition of their outstanding achievement.
Professor Marwala is an engineer and pioneer of Artificial Intelligence (AI), who has made a distinguished contribution to the development of AI and its various applications at the highest academic levels of research and postgraduate supervision.
The ASSAf says Prof Marwala has used his position as an academic expert and science communicator to allay the fears and concerns of the public toward artificial intelligence.
“Through his outreach activities, Prof Marwala has become a role model for university students and an inspiration for high school learners. His unwavering commitment to excellence, which he attributes to his family, ensures that colleagues and students strive to be excellent,” reads a statement from the ASSAf.
Prof Marwala is a Fellow of the Academy of Science of South Africa, the Third World Academy of Sciences, the African Academy of Science and the South African Institute of Electrical Engineering. He is also a Distinguished Scientist of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and serves as Deputy Chair of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
Professor Patel is recognised internationally as a leading scholar in the field of social development and is credited for using science to effect the betterment of society.
“Prof Patel has refined social development theory to promote better social and economic outcomes for vulnerable groups. This ethos, which emerged in her PhD research, continues to infuse her scholarship,” reads the statement from ASSAf.
In her role as Director-General of Social Welfare in the Mandela-led government, she brought scientists and policymakers together in the Lund Commission to conceptualise and promulgate the Child Support Grant (CSG). Her research continues to assess the effects of the CSG – which now reaches over 11 million children – and to consider innovative mechanisms to enhance the outcomes of children who are recipients.
“Prof Patel's energy, ideas and enthusiasm have inspired countless researchers who have worked at the Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) - a research centre that she founded and built over 14 years to promote cutting-edge basic and applied social development research to address complex development challenges,” reads the statement from ASSAf.
Prof Patel is also the recipient of the Katherine A Kendall Memorial Award from the International Association of Schools of Social Work.