The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg in South Africa is redefining the postgraduate experience. With cutting-edge research underpinning its master’s and PhD courses, Wits University graduates are set to become critical and independent thinkers who make a positive impact on society.
Today, Wits scientists and engineers are working on research that is directly related to the Covid-19 pandemic. From participating in vaccine development and trials, to making face shields for healthcare workers, Wits researchers are solving some of the greatest challenges posed by Covid-19. This presents a myriad of opportunities for postgraduate students at Wits to work on these and other groundbreaking projects and to apply what they learn in lectures to a real-world context.
Relevant, innovative and intellectually-stimulating, here are some research areas that are getting Wits postgraduate students excited today:
Impactful research that solves complex problems in society
Last year, Wits researcher and PhD student Michael Lucas won the prestigious Prix Hubert Tuor Innovation Award for his Antimicrobial Coating Technology at the International Conference on Prevention and Infection Control in Switzerland. His innovation presents a new way to deal with the problem of nosocomial infections, which are infections acquired in hospitals.
An ongoing challenge in hospitals everywhere, infection control is caused by surface contamination and subsequent microbial transmission. Lucas’s design for a self-sanitising surface coating, which is showing promising results, is proving to be more valuable today as the pandemic compounds the problem of already crowded hospital rooms.
“These antimicrobial coatings can be applied to high-contact surfaces where there is a risk of contamination, including medical facilities, food processing plants, and public transport surfaces,” Lucas explains.
It’s not only scientists who are putting innovative thinking and problem-solving abilities to good use at Wits. Students at the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering (MIA) along with the Transnet Centre of Systems Engineering (TCSE) and the Transnet Matlafatšo Centre (TMC) recently used their engineering skills to come up with a solution for the shortage of medical supplies.
In March, healthcare facility Netcare 911 was facing a massive shortage of protective gear. They called for help to print head rings for face shields to be used by medical staff treating patients with Covid-19. The Wits community took this call one step further:
Each head-ring for the face shields takes approximately 90 minutes to produce with limited 3D printing capacity. In typical Wits fashion, students engineered an innovative laser-cut solution that would be more effective and time-efficient.
Only four days after the call from Netcare 911, the Wits team had effectively produced 140 face shields and distributed 120 to the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre, and another 20 to the Wits Protection Services staff. In the next few weeks, an additional 300 face shields were produced, of which 200 were donated to Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital and 100 to Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital.
According to the Head of MIA, Professor Robert Reid, the team’s extraordinary contribution to society was a reflection of botho – a core value of the School. It means humanity.
“During this time of national crisis, it is imperative that we use our skills and facilities in any way that will serve our community,” says Reid.
The Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment plans to also develop other medical equipment including respirators, devices to prevent people from touching their faces, and medical masks.
Leading Covid-19 vaccine research in Africa
Wits is currently the lead institution in two Covid-19 vaccine trials, the first in both South African and on the continent. Wits Professor of Vaccinology, Shabir Madhi leads both these trials. The first trial is in association with the University of Oxford and the Oxford Jenner Institute and the second trial is in association with the U.S-based biotechnology firm, Novavax.
“Participating in the clinical development of these vaccines at the outset will assist in advocating for Africans to be amongst the first in line to access these life-saving vaccines, once they become available,” says Madhi.
If history is anything to go by, Wits is set to produce even more groundbreaking solutions to Africa’s most pressing problems. Click here to find out more on how Wits is leading Covid-19 research in the continent and how to be a part of this university.