Science Research

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​​​​Science Research 

Focus Areas

The Faculty of Science constantly produces exceptional research results that are also to the benefit of society.

Our Botany and Plant Biotechnology Department played a key role in the ground-breaking discovery of a ‘barcode’ gene, This gene provides scientists with innovative ways to easily identify different plants by analysing the DNA of the species. Further, this Department is developing an extensive global database of DNA information from the majority of tree species on earth and is also delivering excellent research results in plant classification and the use of medicinal plants. Water, its chemistry, its purification, and its relationship with its fauna and flora. 

These are all explored in the Faculty of Science. A case in point is the novel research being conducted in the Department of Chemical Technology on the development of nanomaterials that are capable of removing pollutants from water. Research undertaken by our Department of Zoology includes pollution monitoring in aquatic environments and the sustainable utilisation and conservation of freshwater fish species. We are proud that our staff in the Physics Departments are playing a part in the ground-breaking research on The Large Hadron Collider.

Moreover, the Department of Physics currently operates the only laboratory in Africa where the physical properties of matter can be studied in experimental temperatures below 2 degrees Kelvin and down to within 0.34 Kelvin from the absolute zero of temperature; and in magnetic fields up to close a million times the magnetic field of the earth. The Faculty is proud to have a unique regional analytical facility (Spectrau), which houses the analytical apparatus of the Faculty under one roof. No other university in South Africa can boast about such a centre in which the expensive equipment and expert analytical personnel of each Department is so centralized, thus making it of use to all the Departments in the Faculty in respect of student training.



Faculty of Science IT Prof Ehlers
Contact: Prof E Ehlers

One of the Academy’s areas of research is that of Information and Cyber Security. Research projects in this area cover the whole spectrum of Information and Cyber Security – from the more technical side to the management and governance side. Examples are:

  • Using advanced IT technologies (smart cards, biometrics etc) to secure logical access to IT systems.
  • Information Security in the mobile (wireless, cell phones etc) environments.
  • Information Security Governance (driven by international best practices).
  • Information security in the wider e-Commerce environment.
  • Securing Cyber Space
  • Critical Information Infrastructure Protection
  • Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs)
  • National Cyber Security Strategies and Policies

Cyber Security Capacity Building

Oversight in the Cyber Security area


Contact: Prof SH (Basie) von Solms​ is a Research Professor in the Academy for Computer Science and Software Engineering at the University of Johannesburg in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is presently the Director of the Centre for Cyber Security of the University of Johannesburg.

Prof von Solms is the Immediate Past President of IFIP, the International Federation for Information Processing. He is also an Honorary Member of IFIP.
He is a Fellow of the Oxford-Martin School of the University of Oxford. He is also a Fellow of the Computer Society of South Africa (FCSSA), and a Fellow of the British Computer Society (FBCS). The professor is also a Chartered Information Technology Professional (CITP).


Another area of research is that of Agent Architectures and Agent Applications. Research projects in this area focus on the component-based embedding of Agent-enhancing characteristics in Agents and Multi-Agent Systems (MAS). Examples are:

  • Embedding Intelligence in a Specialized Architecture for Auctioneer Agents.
  • A Specialized Architecture for embedding Intelligence into Multi-Agent Systems.
  • A Specialized Architecture for embedding Information Security characteristics into Agents.
  • Embedding mobility characteristics into Agents.

Faculty of Science IT Prof M Coetzee 

Contact: Prof M Coetzee

A third area of research is that of Services Computing and Trust Management. Research projects in this area focus on all aspects of Trust and Reputation models, Service Oriented Architecture, Software as a Service, and Cloud Computing. Examples are:

  • Access control for smart local spaces
  • Moving Reputation to the cloud
  • Context-Aware RESTful Services on Mobile Devices
  • Digital Business Ecosystem Trust and Reputation
  • Leveraging personality and trust for group recommendations
  • Security of service compositions in Service Oriented Architectures



Contact: Prof CJ Ngila

Centre for Nanomaterials Science Research

The Centre for Nanomaterials Science Research (CNSR) facilitates and supports individual and collaborative research in the Department of Applied Chemistry. Its members are mostly active academic staff members some of which affiliate with a number of professional organizations including the South African Chemical Institute, the Water Institute of Southern Africa, the South African Nanotechnology Initiative, the American Chemical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

The CNSR at the University of Johannesburg was established in 2007 and consisted of four “Pillars” of research, all having a nanomaterials science foundation. While other nano-based activities exist within the University, these four pillars or Focus Areas represent the current strategic focus within the Faculty of Science. The primary aim of the CNSR is to highlight the nanomaterials expertise at the University of Johannesburg, while providing a platform for the high-level training of researchers in Materials Science.

The CNSR forms part of the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Strong Materials established by the NRF and Department of Science and Technology, which focuses on the synthesis, functionalisation, characterisation and applications of carbon-based nanomaterials i.e. carbon nanotubes and strong composites. Research staff in the CNSR is part of the academic staff of the University of Johannesburg, having several strong collaborations with other regional, national, and international institutions. On average the CNSR aims to fund two postdoctoral fellows and a senior research associate for three years, together with a number of postgraduate students.

Focus Areas:

  • Nanomaterials for water treatment
  • Nanomaterials for catalysis applications
  • Bio-nanomaterials
  • Nanomaterials for sensors and photovoltaic applications

The Centre also supports research that involves analytical and electrochemistry with emphasis on water analysis and treatment. Examples of on-going research in this group include projects on the synthesis of nano materials for catalysis, the synthesis and characterisation of aligned and N/B-doped multi- walled nanotubes chemical vapour deposition and the use of structurally modified nano materials in water purification. Much of this research is multidisciplinary and our postgraduate students gain wide range of experience ranging from synthetic techniques to electron microscopic characterisation. Other projects involve greener methods using microwave irradiation to synthesize nanocomposites materials incorporation doped carbon nanotubes and other metal nanoparticles. Some of the materials synthesized under this banner are listed below.

Nanocomposite membranes

Activities in this area include fabrication and functionalization of commercial and in-house synthetic microfiltration-, ultrafiltration, nanofiltration and reverse osmosis membranes. The membranes are applied for removal of inorganics, organics and degradation of microbes in water. For degradation of organics and microbes in water, the membranes are impregnated with nanoparticles are im Eletrospun nanofibers The research activities involve electrospinning of synthetic and biopolymer solutions under applied voltage to produce nanofibers. The starting materials are synthetic- and biopolymers. The nanofibers are used as filters for removal of both inorganic and organic pollutants in water purification

Ceramics and nanomaterials

The prime research domain in this field is the development of silicon/carbon nanomaterials from carbonaceous waste material using sol-gel technology. These wastes include lignin, low-value coals, coal ash, medical waste, and polymers. The nanocomposite materials are then used for various applications. Composites/Nanocomposites Polymer composites and nanocomposites are widely used in the diversified area of material science. It has also been used to develop high energy thermal and packaging devices. The research focus in this division of nanomaterial research has been expanded to include the application of these composite/nanocomposites in the removal of heavy metals and organic pollutants based on adsorption chemistry. Phosphorus Chemistry Research The phosphorus chemistry research activities cover synthesis and biological evaluation of new bisphosphonate derivatives as anti-tumour and anti-viral agents. The bisphosphonate derivatives are important because of their anti-metastatic activity in cancer patients and their antiviral activity against HIV-1, HIV-2 and other retroviruses. Current projects focus on phosphorylation of single-walled and double-walled carbon nanotubes. The phosphorylated carbon nanotubes have also been applied in the treatment of radioactive waste and in the removal of toxic metal ions such as Cr(VI) and Hg(II). Currently the Department has joint anti-cancer research projects with the radiopharmaceutical unit at NECSA (Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa).

Photo Chemical Technology lab bottles

Water Research

The water research group is one of the apex research niche areas of University of Johannesburg, namely the Water and Health Group (UJWHG). There are two main thrusts in the water research field. One focuses on the use of nanoporous polymers (alias nanosponges) for removing organic pollutants in water purification. The activities involve the synthesis of water-insoluble cyclodextrin- and calixarene-based polymers and their derivatives and testing of various forms of the materials, a collaborative with the industry partners, to remove organic pollutants. Nanosponges bind organic molecules in aqueous media, but release the same contaminants in organic media, which makes them ideal not only for this application but for chromatography, separation science, and for potential sensor applications. The UJWHG is a unique multidisciplinary organisation that involves engineering, health, and social science disciplines.

Electrochemistry Research

The electrochemistry research in the Department focuses on the following: Electrochemical sensors and biosensors based on nanocomposite (dendrimer, gold nanoparticles, graphene and quantum dots) platforms for biomedical, water and environmental applications. Photoelectrochemistry: i) synthesis and photo/electro-characterisation of novel photoactive composite materials such as graphene, graphite, polymers/dendrimers, and other nanomaterials; ii) development of reactors for water treatment. Application of electrochemistry in the analysis of organic, inorganic and natural products. Current research involves development of chemical sensors for selected organic and inorganic water pollutants, aptamer biosensor for HIV protein detection, cholera biosensor, smart polymer based enzyme biosensors, exfoliated graphite based photoelectrochemical reactors for the removal of organics from water (water treatment), onsite electrochemical sensor for arsenic, among other metals.

Contact: Prof Ajay Mishra – Director Centre for Nanomaterials Science Research (CNSR)
Tel.: +27(0)11 559 6180
Fax: +27(0)11 559 642

DST/Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre (NIC)

The DST/Mintek is a national facility that is geographically spread across the country and was established at Mintek in 2007 by the Department of Science and Technology. The Mintek NIC activities are aimed at addressing national priorities highlighted by both the national nanotechnology strategy and national research and development (R&D) strategy. Importantly, the Mintek NIC structure was built on the foundation of the national system of innovations (NSI) to focus on driving South Africa’s transformation from resource-based economy towards knowledge based economy using nanotechnology. The Mintek NIC activities focus on a number of issues, including the development of research platforms, encouraging and promoting the formation of collaborative networks, addressing human capital development and bridging the “innovation chasm”. The Department of Applied Chemistry collaborates with the DST/Mintek NIC in an attempt to develop nanomaterials-based solutions to solve problems relating to water treatment (Water Platform). The NIC operates under the umbrella of the Water and Health Research Group, which is a multidisciplinary sounding board within the University for water-related issues including the treatment, distribution, and social consequences of water resources. Its vision is to provide nanotechnology solutions for effective treatment of water to improve the quality of life of the people of South Africa. It seeks to address the objectives of the national Nanotechnology Strategy of South Africa in respect of improving the quality of life by pursuing research and development in water treatment utilizing nanotechnology and membrane technology.

The centre focuses on the use of polymeric materials and zeolites that can be used in a broad range of applications such as filter-beds and ion-exchange columns. These materials are broadly adaptable to different forms including granules, beads and films. Functionality is added by suitable immobilisation of nano-scale metal, inorganic and organic units. The centre’s main area of expertise is the application of synthesis and characterisation techniques to these “functional nanomaterials”. The functional nanomaterials are then applied to the detection, trapping, and destruction of water-borne pollutants, especially trace organic molecules. The centre works closely with local and international research institutions such as the University of the Western Cape, Durban University of Technology, and TU Delft in the Netherlands. It also has close links with science councils and water-bodies such as the Water Research Commission. Thirdly the participation from industrial partners like Rand-Water, ESKOM, and Industrial Urethanes allows us to develop the technology in tandem with the science. The centre has a strong focus on postgraduate student development, and short working visits by collaborating partners are encouraged. The following Nanotechnology treatment systems are being developed:

  • Nanostructured polymeric adsorbent for capturing organics and heavy metals. Adsorption modules with low pressure drops for fast removal of organics and heavy metals.
  • Membrane supported nanocatalysts as treatment options for polluted water and wastewater. Total mineralisation and degradation of organic compounds using membrane supported nanocatalysts which have high degradation rates towards selected compounds are developed and fabricated in-house.
  • Hydrophilic nanostructured polymeric membranes for portable water production. Imparting hydrophilicity to old and newly formulated polymeric membranes as a way of minimising fouling and increasing membrane lifespan is generally accepted as the best method.



Profile photo of Dr K Reddy
Contact person: Dr K Reddy

Currently the staff are engaged in research in the areas of Physics Education, Nuclear Structure, Laser/fibre-optics as well as the unlimited optical and other physical properties of Zinc Oxide (in collaboration with Applied Chemistry Department), Numerical Methods and Mathematics Education. Nuclear Structure research is aiming to explore one of nature's most fascinating and unique, quantum system- atomic nucleus. One way to achieve this is by the use of highly energetic beam of particles obtained with the cyclotron accelerator. The research is carried out in collaboration with physicists from iThemba Laboratory for Accelerator Based Sciences in the Western Cape. At present, the researchers are involved in an experimental quest to find answers to some of the intriguing questions such as the existence of possible chirality in atomic nuclei and Octupole Correlations and Collective Couplings in Rare Earth Nuclei using the techniques of gamma-ray spectroscopy. In Laser Optics/Photonics research, we are seeking novel applications of photonic effects. Currently, we are considering a photonics-based indirect fingerprint recognition system. There are several other potential applications of photonics research such as the fibre-optics telecommunications, the development of sensors, medical diagnosis and therapy which may emerge once the qualification programme is in place. Also the Department is supervising Masters studies in nanoscience in collaboration with the Department of Applied Chemistry. Another area of investigation is  radiation detection in mines and rivers.

The research in the Numerical Methods area seeks to develop new and highly accurate numerical methods for solving ordinary and partial differential equations by modifying existing methods of solution. Currently the focus is on developing methods that are adapted to solve highly chaotic systems and problems arising from fluid dynamics. In developing the new methods, the spectral method as well as higher order compact finite difference schemes are intended to be utilized. Research is also developing in the area of Integration of Technology in Mathematics Education, Differential Equations, Lie Symmetry Analysis and MATLAB/Mathematica applications.



Profile photo of Prof Marianne Cronjé
Head of Department: Prof Marianne Cronje

The research activities of the Department of Biochemistry are varied and include aspects of plant-, mammalian- and microbial biochemistry. The Department boasts seven independent research groups, of which the main research foci are summarized below:

Human Genetics and Infectious Disease

Group Leader: Prof Liza Bornman

Prof Liza Bornman (PhD, Human Genetics, UP) is investigating the combined role of genetics, epigenetics and environment on the vitamin D signalling pathway in susceptibility to tuberculosis (TB) in African populations. According to Statistics South Africa, non-HIV TB is the leading natural cause of death in South Africa. TB is a multifactorial disease and genetically complex, influenced by polymorphisms in several host genes, including the vitamin-D receptor gene (VDR). Besides host genetics, TB is influenced by a number of environmental factors including socioeconomic conditions, nutrition, the virulence of the pathogen and HIV infection. In addition to host genetic sequence polymorphisms, such as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), environmental factors may impose variation on the DNA through epigenetic mechanisms. Association between VDR sequence variants and TB is inconsistent between studies and populations and epigenetics may contribute an additional layer of variation influencing TB susceptibility.

Molecular Plant:Microbe Interactions

Group leaders: Prof Ian Dubery and Dr Lizelle Piater

The primary objective of this research group is to investigate the biochemical basis of inducible defense responses in crop plants towards pathogenic organisms so as to be able to manipulate the process for enhanced natural disease resistance, and to induce crop protection through measures that are benign to the environment. The focus of the research is on plant and microbial biochemistry, especially with regard to the complex plant: microbe interactions between plants and their pathogens that might lead to either disease or resistance, depending on the perception capacity of the plant. The induction of defense-related genes, proteins and metabolites, and the immunization of plants against diseases that result in induced or acquired resistance are investigated using new omic technologies (transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics) to further research in this field. The aim is to develop novel strategies for crop protection, to complement traditional plant breeding efforts and to reduce the expense and environmental costs of reliance on conventional pesticide treatments.

Cancer Research

Picture of  Biochemistry DNA research  

Group Leader: Prof Marianne Cronje

Physiological or programmed cell death generally occurs by apoptosis, a programmed cell suicide mechanism. Disorders in the regulation of apoptosis contribute to many disease pathogeneses or progression and involves either impaired cell eradication or turnover (e.g. cancer) or uncontrolled cell loss (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease). In fact, uncontrolled cell proliferation and eventual tumour development is considered one of the hallmarks of oncogenic cell transformation. Studies have focused on the understanding of the regulatory pathways governing apoptosis, and armed with this knowledge, have led to many studies to induce apoptosis in cancer cells by triggering core components of the cell death machinery. Understanding these molecular events that regulate apoptosis in response to anticancer therapy and how cancer cells evade apoptotic cell death provides novel opportunities for the development of molecular therapeutics that target cell death pathways. The cancer research group is currently focusing their attention on a number of compounds able to induce apoptosis in cancer cells, including those present in indigenous medicinal plants and a series of novel metal compounds synthesised in-house by Prof Reinout Meijboom from the Department of Chemistry. These so-called metallo-drugs have been patented.

Diabetes Therapeutics Research

Group leader: Dr Gerrit Koorsen

DNA in the eukaryotic cell nucleus is densely packaged within extensive nucleoprotein complexes known as chromatin. This assembly not only facilitates the greater than 10,000-fold lengthwise compaction of DNA in order to accommodate large genomes (of which the extended length is approximately 2m per cell) within a nucleus with a comparatively small diameter (~ 10 mm), but also forms the substrate for all nuclear processes. However, the compact state of a eukaryotic genome imposes a considerable barrier to DNA access. The histones, a class of highly conserved, basic proteins, constitute the main protein component of chromatin and directly establish and stabilize the structures that are responsible for the compaction of DNA through a hierarchical series of folding steps. Unusual compaction of DNA is associated with a series of epigenetic abnormalities, including cancer. This research group aims to elucidate the role of the linker histones H1/H5 in the establishment of higher-order chromatin structures as well as to uncover epigenetic processes dependent on this histone class.

Microbial enzymes and plant disease

Group leader: Dr Matsao​bane Tlou

During the initial association with plants, pathogens encounter barriers (epicuticular lipids, plant cell walls etc.) which need to be penetrated in order to infect the host. Some phytopathogenic bacterial species are amongst some of the best studied lipolytic enzyme producers (potential to degrade the lipid barriers). A few phytopathogenic bacterial species have been shown to produce enzymes that degrade cuticular lipids in vitro. However, the identity of the enzymes (true cutinases or moonlighting lipases) and the physiology of enzyme production in planta/in vitro, remains unknown. On the other hand, some studies have reported on esterases from phytopathogenic bacteria that play a role in the hydrolysis of pectin (plant cell wall component) and that therefore influence phytopathogenecity. However, in all the reported cases, the extent to which these enzymes contribute to phytopathogenicity is underexplored. The group focuses on Pseudomonas syringae, a phytopathogen that can infect a wide variety of plant species and is subdivided into over 50 pathovars. The genome of this bacterium has been sequenced and the annotation has revealed several genes encoding lipolytic enzymes on the genome (no cutinase encoding genes). It makes physiological sense that the numerous lipolytic enzymes encoded on the genome play various roles in the bacterium. However, the group’s main focus is to unearth from the bacterium epicuticular/plant cell wall degrading lipolytic enzymes and to investigate the physiological regulation of the genes relative to the pathogenesis.r Molecular Plant


Group Leader: Dr Lindy Esterhuizen

The genus Begomovirus consists of viruses that are whitefly transmitted (Bemisiatabaci) and comprises more than 100 member species. Begomo viruses are often the limiting factor in the production of tomato, pepper, squash, melon, and cotton and periodic begomovirus epidemics in staple crops, such as cassava, have caused widespread famines in the developing world. Tomato curly stunt virus (ToCSV) transmitted in a persistent manner by a non-indigenous whitefly, Bemisia tabaci B-typeis among the most important limiting factors that affect tomato production in South Africa. The whitefly Bemisiatabaci (Hemiptera) is a cryptic species complex containing some of the most destructive invasive pests of vegetable, ornamental and field crops worldwide. The plant pathology research group currently focuses on characterising the genetic diversity of begomoviruses infecting a number of crop plants, including tomato, pepper and sweet potato as well as viruses infecting indigenous plants (weeds) located in vegetable production areas that are transmitted by the four B. tabaci cryptic species present in South Africa. Knowing the genotypic range of viruses causing disease and which B. tabaci species transmit them are relevant to developing knowledge-based disease management practices.



Profile photo of Mr Eric van Zyl
Contact person: Mr Erik​ van Zyl


Contact: Dr Vuyo Mavumengwana

Research area: Biopharmaceutics and Bioprocess Research Group

Research interests revolve around biopharmaceuticals, bioorganic chemistry and bio-catalysis and these include the following:

  • Exploration, evaluation and characterization of bioactive compounds from endophytic bacteria and fungi associated with medicinal plants. We are interested in discovering structurally diverse compounds for the treatment of cancer and TB. The projects largely focus on the microbiology, biochemistry and bioorganic chemistry of medicinal plants and subsequent development of bioactive compounds towards the treatment of the above mentioned diseases
  • We are also involved in the evaluation and characterization of bioactive compounds from corals. Our interest is similar to (1). Over and above what the sponges produce, we are very much interested in the microbial symbionts (both bacteria and fungi) within the corals to evaluate whether they produce similar compounds, derivatives thereof or precursors of the parent compounds. The project uses microbiology, biochemistry and bioorganic chemistry as tools for the development of novel bioactive compounds. The above-mentioned corals are also grown artificially and similar explorations as in (1) are undertaken.
  • Methylglyoxal produced during glycolysis is very toxic to cells, however, cells (both eukaryotic and eukaryotic) have evolved ways to transform methylglyoxal to lactic acid through the use of glyoxalase I and II. This project utilizes compounds derived from (1 and 2) as potential inhibitors of glyoxalase I.

Food Technology

Contact: Dr Patric Njobeh

Research area: Food and Feed Safety (mycotoxin and microbial contamination)

A big part of the Food Technology division’s research is in the discipline of mycotoxins. Projects are being conducted on mycotoxins in many foods and pet foods. Milk, for example, is not only a food in its own right but is also used to make a range of dairy products like cheese, ice cream and yogurt. All these commodities may become contaminated with mycotoxins if the animal producing the original milk consumed feed containing mycotoxins. The main contaminant is aflatoxin M1 (AFM1) which arises by the animal’s metabolism of aflatoxin B1 (AFB1). Other toxins, however, can appear in milk, e.g., ochratoxin. These toxins can pass over to the dairy products during processing. During processing cheese can become contaminated with other toxins due to the use of fungi as maturation organisms. Although the primary source of dairy product contamination is the producing animal it is important in food safety that the contamination is traced through the production chain. Therefore, particular attention will be focused on the primary source of mycotoxin, which is the all the feed material the lactating animal (in this case the cow) may be consuming. Sampling will take place further down the chain to find out the effect of the processing and distribution has on any contaminant identified in the feed. Work will also be done to look at the effect of processing on milk mycotoxin concentration.

Toxigenicity of fungi responsible for mycotxin contamination of food and feeds is also investigated. Another part of this research looks at mycotoxin exposure among humans and animals as well as mitigating mycotoxin contamination and associated problems using biotechnology and nanotechnology. Other research on the food safety area focuses on understanding the transmission and behaviour of microbial pathogens, and chemical contaminants including residues of antimicrobial agents along the farm to fork chain in South Africa. These research areas are exploited to generate data that can be made available to policy markers to ensure the supply of safe food for human consumption both for the domestic and international markets.

Research area: Food chemistry, Food processing and Sensory science

Group leader: Dr Eugenie Kayitesi

The focus is on the following research themes:

  • Food and Nutrition security in Africa with emphasis on research into nutritional and sensory quality of crops that are underutilised and indigenous to Africa (eg cereals and legumes). This involves adding value to existing food products through alternative processing strategies as well as developing new products thus improving the livelihood of people where these crops grow.
  • Exploration of the antioxidant potential of phytochemicals in plant foods. The integrity and transformation of polyphenols (phenolic acids and flavonoids) in foods during processing are characterised and their potential to exert health promoting properties is investigated.
  • Use of food processing technologies to improve functional, nutritional, sensory and microbiological stability and quality of foods is another area of interest for the group.

Research area: Salt reduction in bread

Research is also currently undertaken to reduce the salt content in bread, as stipulated by the Department of Health. The aim is to reduce salt content without adversely affecting taste and functional properties in the bread.

Research area: Beverage Research

In addition, Food Technology is also conducting collaborative research with Professor Bob Stafford and external research partners within the field of brewing and beverage production.

Multi-disciplinary projects have, and are, being pursued in a variety of differing areas from post-harvest handling of raw materials, mathematical modelling of energy use in beverage production, innovative approaches to beverage processing, low-energy wort boiling and remediation technology to eliminate beverage mycotoxins (the latter with Surepure Inc, Cape Town, South Africa). A number of our projects are in collaboration with local and international industrial partners, including Surepure Inc, Heineken, SAB, CSIR, and BDS Projects. In partnership with SurePure Inc. we are also looking at applying UV instrumentation to reduce levels of mycotoxins during beverage processing.

Funding and Collaboration

A number of our projects are funded externally by NRF and the EU, with some of these activities carried out under the CoE in Food Security (UP and UWC as co-hosts) in collaboration with local and international universities as well as industrial partners, including Heineken, SAB, CSIR, and BDS Projects.


 Plant Growth and Development

Faculty of Science Botany Prof Charles Whitehead
Contact: Prof CW Whitehead

The main thrust of research in this field is in the areas of plant biotechnology and postharvest physiology and technology of fresh fruit, vegetables and cut flowers.

Taxonomy, Medicinal Plants and Ethno Botany

Faculty of Science Botany etnobotanical fieldwork Prof B-E van Wyk
Contact: Prof B-E van Wyk

The Department is widely known as a centre of excellence in the field of African medicinal plants, ethno botany and the classification of African plants. One of the main aims of their taxonomic endeavour is to investigate the taxonomic, genetic, chemical and geographical variations in various commercially important indigenous plants, especially those that are potentially useful to the pharmaceutical industry.

Regional patterns of biodiversity and conservation in South Africa: the flora of the Kruger National Park

Faculty of Science Botany Science Prof M vd Bank 

A thorough understanding of biodiversity patterns and processes is also required for efficient conservation. Indeed, one of the biggest challenges for conservation biology is to provide conservation planners with ways to prioritise effort. Much attention has been focused on species richness and endemism; however, the conservation of evolutionary process is now acknowledged as a priority in the face of rapid global change. With this research, we are taking a synthetic approach towards explaining the evolution of biodiversity within one of the world’s most renowned protected areas, the Kruger National Park. The scientific goal is to understand how evolutionary history and ecology have shaped biodiversity in the region, and to use this new knowledge to help design science-based conservation actions. Research activities are designed around three complementary disciplines:

  • Molecular Systematics A ‘barcode’ gene that can be used to distinguish between the majority of plant species on Earth has been identified by scientists from UJ and research partners. This gene, which can be used to identify plants using a small sample, could lead to new ways of easily cataloguing different types of plants in species-rich areas like rainforests. It could also lead to accurate methods for identifying plant ingredients in powdered substances, such as in traditional Chinese medicines, and could help to monitor and prevent the illegal transportation of endangered plant species. The team behind the discovery found that DNA sequences of the gene ‘matK’ differ among plant species, but are nearly identical in plants of the same species. This means that the matK gene can provide scientists with an easy way of distinguishing between different plants, even closely related species that may look the same to the human eye. The researchers made this discovery by analysing the DNA from different plant species. They found that when one plant species was closely related to another, differences were usually detected in the matK DNA. Researchers carried out two large-scale field studies: one on the exceptionally diverse species of orchids found in the tropical forests of Costa Rica, and the other on the trees and shrubs of the Kruger National Park in South Africa. This was a collaborative project between teams from South Africa (Dr Michelle van der Bank, Department of Botany and Plant Biotechnology, University of Johannesburg), United Kingdom (Dr Vincent Savolainen, dual appointee at Imperial College London’s Department of Life Sciences and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) and Costa Rica (Diego Bogarin, Lankester Botanical Garden, University of Costa Rica). Using specimens collected from Costa Rica, were able to use the matK gene to identify 1,600 species of orchid. In the course of this work, they discovered that what was previously assumed to be one species of orchid was actually two distinct species that live on different slopes of the mountains and have differently shaped flowers adapted for different pollinating insects. The team was also able to use the matK gene to identify the trees and shrubs of the Kruger National Park, also well known for its big game animals. In the long run the aim is to build on the genetic information the team gathered from Costa Rica and South Africa to create a genetic database of the matK DNA of as many plant species as possible, so that samples can be compared to this database and different species accurately identified.
  • Evolutionary Ecology Research focuses on the following questions: What is the regional pattern of biodiversity; how is biodiversity structured within the various ecoregions (ecozones) of the Kruger National Park, and beyond? How can phylogenetic relationships inform community assembly? Are communities some random assemblages of the regional species pool? Or instead, are communities made of well-adapted taxa in which similar traits have converged independently in separate lineages?
  • Conservation Biology Research focuses on the following questions: What is the geographic distribution of biodiversity as measured by various indices, such as endemism, species richness, or phylogenetic diversity? How are these indices correlated, could one be used as a surrogate for the others? How is extinction risk distributed geographically and with regard to the phylogeny? Are there ecoregions or specific lineages more prone to extinction? Are there traits that increase extinction risks? Are there regions that deserve particular conservation attention due to their exceptional phylogenetic diversity and evolutionary history?


The University of Johannesburg and St Andrews University have signed an agreement allowing the joint offering of PhD degrees. The degree is jointly awarded by the two institutions after the student has spent research time at both universities. The UJ group has strong synthesis expertise and has been working for some years on ligand synthesis and has been improving known catalysed reactions such as the Suzuki, Stille and hydroformylation reactions. The UStA group has stronger process chemistry and reaction kinetics elements as core capabilities. The collaboration intends to produce new ligands for the rhodium catalysed hydroformylation reaction at UJ and to undertake reaction testing and kinetics studies at UStA. Research in the chemical sciences focuses on three areas, namely synthetic methodologies, speciation analysis and water treatment, and the determination of molecular structure Research collaboration with different universities and research institutes in the USA and Europe such as the School of Water Sciences, Cranfield Universiteit in England; University of Leipzig in Germany, Ben-Gurion University in Israel; Hauptman-Woodward Institute in the USA, creates opportunities for students to work in leading laboratories abroad as part of their PhD studies.

Synthetic Organic Chemistry

 Symbolic image of Synthetic Organic Chemistry

The research programme in synthetic organic chemistry focuses on synthetic methodologies of industrial and pharmaceutical interest. A very successful research programme in the field of carbonyl reactions, by means of palladium-catalysed reactions among others, is currently being undertaken in conjunction with SASOL. Another exciting project, which is very important in combating malaria, focuses on the isolation, identification and synthesis of new compounds with possible anti-malaria functioning. Furthermore, research is also underway that aims to synthesise a variety of antiviral compounds (eg against HIV and Herpes simplex viruses).

The Catalysis Research Centre

Photo of Prof DBG Williams explains the finer points of the NMR
Contact: Prof DBG Williams

Catalysis is a means of facilitating chemical reactions that are otherwise difficult or uneconomical to perform. The catalyst may be in the same phase/medium as the substrate (homogeneous catalysis) or in a different phase (heterogeneous catalysis). There is a global need for improved catalyst systems in terms of catalyst performance, longevity and recyclability in all areas of endeavour relating to the manufacture of chemicals. Accordingly, it is a focus of this research centre to investigate catalysts with improved performance characteristics as measured against selected benchmark systems. The current focus is in the area of homogeneous catalysis strongly underpinned by organic and organometallic synthesis, especially of new classes of ligands and catalyst precursors. Reactions of interest are cross-coupling reactions, carbonylation reactions and alkene transformations, which are of special interest to the South African commodity chemicals industry and internationally also to the fine chemicals and pharmaceutical.

Water chemistry, element and species analysis

Water is a crucial commodity to an arid country such as South Africa. As such, an understanding of the various aspects of water chemistry is essential to ensure adequate supplies of water of sufficient quality. This research programme focuses on water chemistry and the analytical chemistry of chemical species of the same element in different physico-chemical forms, eg elements in different oxidation states, state of complexation, and adsorbed species. Current projects include:

  • The development of oxidation state speciation methods, which are important for the mining and chemical industry and environmental monitoring.
  • The chemistry of physical water treatment processes. Recent success in this research field involves a patented treatment of water with certain free metal ions for the reduction of the formation of scale in industrial and domestic installations.
  • The chemistry of fluoride adsorption and the development of cost-effective defluoridation methods for contaminated surface waters for application in rural areas.
  • The development and implementation of sequential extraction techniques in environmental monitoring.

Crystal and Structural Chemistry

This program is concerned with the phase chemistry of industrially important materials, with the focus on the mineral and wax industries. The relationships between structure and properties of the crystalline forms of these materials are studied by the determination and analysis of their three-dimensional structures. The use of supramolecular techniques for the preparation of unique compounds is stressed. Current projects include:

  • The synthesis and structure determination of modified wax components and layered organic/inorganic hybrids.
  • The determination of crystal structures and phase behaviour of titanium-containing slags, produced by the heavy mineral industry.

Research on medicinal plants of South Africa is also done in the Department.



Photo of a Department of Geography Excursion 

Sustainable Energy and Geo-Informatics (consisting of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing) are the main research areas in the department. A flagship project in the department is ENERKEY


‘Enerkey Sustainable Mega-Cities Project’ is a collaborative initiative between UJ, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg, the University of Stuttgart and the Metropolitan Council of Stuttgart, Germany.

The project objectives are to establish a research network of South African and German institutions in sustainability research; to develop and implement energy projects as exemplary case studies to improve sustainability in large urban agglomerations; to demonstrate an integrated approach including technical, economic, ecological and socio-economic aspects; to show the feasibility and practical use of model tools and planning instruments; and to elaborate together new approaches, methods and projects for a longer fruitful collaboration.

Through this collaboration with the University of Stuttgart, the UJ has become the South African lead partner in this massive programme aimed at analyzing energy needs and uses of the greater Johannesburg megacity as well as certain peri-urban and rural areas, and implementing several pilot projects intended to demonstrate the use of more sustainable energy technologies. Programme partners involve local and regional governments, Eskom, the South African National Energy Research Agency, NGOs, and several private companies. Current projects address vehicle operating performance and emissions monitoring; thermal efficiency of school buildings; rural biofuels modelling; social and environmental sustainability factors in alternate rural biofuel strategies; solar water heating strategies; energy modelling; thermal properties of building materials; energy efficient low cost housing; energy use and domestic safety (safer paraffin stoves).

Support for this niche builds on the UJ’s emerging research reputation for energy-related research activities, including its pathbreaking work on the development of revolutionary technologies for cost-efficient photovoltaic cells, and promotes the emergence of a UJ research focus on energy.

Within the pilot phase, selected critical energy areas were studied within the broader framework.

  • The Residential Thermal Energy Project developed, tested and piloted improved thermal energy devices for residential buildings and settlements, including pilot supply of safe(r) paraffin stoves, lamps and fire-proof bedding and curtains;
  • The Schools Energy Efficiency Project retrofitted insulation into existing classrooms and measured the energy performance of school building types. This was combined with awareness raising and educational efforts;
  • The Mobility & Traffic Project modelled motor vehicle fuel use, air pollutant emissions and congestion in greater Johannesburg, and developed an improved emissions inventory model for use in air quality management and transportation infrastructure planning.
  • The Solar Water Heating Project developed economic, business and administrative plans for the large-scale rollout of domestic solar water heaters in the domestic sector. These plans were developed jointly with the cities, Eskom, DBSA and NGO partners and will be implemented starting in 2008.
  • Student exchanges – During 2006 and 2007 two German students and two South Africa students have visited the partner countries for periods of up to four months within the framework of the Enerkey programme.

Profile photo of Prof B Cairncross
Contact: Prof B Cairncross

Projects are undertaken in cooperation with various institutions and universities worldwide. The national and international projects currently being undertaken include:

Interaction between styles of mineralization and environmental change in the Precambrian:

  • Geochronology, sedimentary provenance, sequence stratigraphy and palaeomagnetism of Mesoarchean to Palaeoproterozoic sedimentary successions on the Kaapvaal and Pilbara cratons.
  • Multidisciplinary study of the Precambrian biosphere and surficial oxygenation, Kaapvaal Craton, South Africa.
    • Ferrous mineral research.
    • Base metal deposits of the Bushmanland region, South Africa.
    • Tectonic setting and Cu-mineralization in the Areachap Group, Northern Cape Province.
    • Base metal mineralization in the Zambian Copper belt.
  • Provenance studies applied to understanding basin evolution and palaeogeographic reconstructions through time:
    • Neoproterozoic relations between Southern Africa and South America.
    • Provenance studies applied to the understanding of basin evolution through time.
  • Geology, sedimentology, evaluation and utilization of southern African coal resources.
  • Documenting and publicising South Africa's national geological, mineral and gemstone heritage.
  • Geodynamics of high-grade metamorphic terrains, with particular emphasis on the Neoarchean-Palaeoproterozoic Limpopo Complex
  • Thermal regime, fluid activity and magmatism of regional and local-scale shear-zones in Precambrian granulite complexes
  • Research into the origin and formation of South African caves
  • Geology of certain nature reserves in the Limpopo Province.
  • Greenstone belt geology and associated granites.
  • Geology of the Bushveld Complex and associated platinum group element mineralization.
  • Mineralogical control on natural surface water quality in South Africa.
  • Medical Geology with special focus more on naturally occurring geo-health issues.
  • Centre in Economic Geometallurgy (integrated with the Paleoproterozoic Mineralization (PPM) Research Group)
  • The origin and effect of fluids in the Earth’s crust in the Archeaen and Palaeoproterozoic eons
  • The formation and chronology of caves in the Cradle of Humankind and surroundings
  • Research in novel ways to date fossil-bearing cave sediments
  • Mineralogical and cosmochemical research on the comet fragment “Hypatia” from the Libyan Desert Glass area, SW Egypt.

In 2014, the Department of Geology with co-host University of the Witwatersrand was awarded an NRF national Centre of Excellence CIMERA (Centre of Excellence for Integrated Mineral and Energy Resource Analyses) under the directorship of NRF A-rated UJ academic Professor Nic Beukes. The centre collaborates with the University of Fort Hare, University of Venda, University of Pretoria, Rhodes University and Stellenbosch University. The research focus of the proposed CoE is to assimilate an integrated understanding of the nature and origin of some of the major and minor mineral and fossil energy resources of South Africa and their geometallurgical characteristics; to apply this knowledge to ensure optimum and sustainable extraction of these resources, and to develop methods to prevent and solve environmental impacts of utilization of the resources. The overall focus will be to integrate forefront academic research with strategic applications in wealth generation and human resource development not only in South Africa but also the rest of Africa. This approach ensures proper alignment of activities with the defined objectives of CoE’s and the South African Government’s strategic focus on mineral and fossil fuel resources.

The Palaeo-Proterozoic Mineralization (PPM) Research Group in economic geology and geometallurgy already enjoys national recognition and international exposure, with Professor Jan Kramers as the group’s leader. The Paleoproterozoic Mineralization Research Group (PPM) has become the largest research group in the geosciences in South Africa housed within a single department. It is internationally recognized as a leading force in the study of Precambrian paleoenvironmental evolution and associated ore forming processes. The research efforts of the PPM Group are focused on – but by no means restricted to – the Paleoproterozoic Eon of Earth History (1.8 and 2.5 billion years before present). This Eon represents a time of unique changes of System Earth, including a rapid rise in atmospheric oxygen concentrations, and the formation of the first Supercontinents, with associated continental rifts and collisional mountain belts. The Paleoproterozoic Era is also one of the most richly mineralized Eons in geological history, hosting by far the largest concentrations of iron, manganese, platinum and chromium in the world. Many of these mineral deposits are time-bounded and related to the profound environmental changes experienced by System Earth during this time interval. Since 2010, the activities of the PPM group have expanded and diversified to encompass studies of the environment of early life in the Archean Eon.

A considerable proportion of the research carried out by members and students of the PPM Group is aimed to further our understanding of the relationship between environmental change and styles of mineralization in the Paleoproterozoic. This research focus of the PPM Group has particular regional relevance, as much of the formidable mineral wealth of the Paleoproterozoic occurs in Africa - and in particular Southern Africa. Geometallurgical characterization of ores and beneficiation products is a second important research focus of the PPM Group. The latter is aimed to provide detailed quantitative mineralogical and textural information for non-renewable mineral resources that are heterogeneous in composition, in order to assure their sustainable use.

In 2006, the PPM group was integrated into a newly established research centre. The research centre enjoys close links to industry, currently being engaged in a 5-year research project into the iron ore resource potential of the Northern Cape Province, funded in equal parts by African Rainbow Minerals and Associated Ore and Metals.


The centre’s excellent and unrivalled research equipment infrastructure plays a key role not only in its research contracts with mining companies, but has also placed the UJ at the forefront of palaeomagnetic research not only in Africa, but also in the world by enabling international research collaborations with, e.g., Caltech, MIT, Yale, the University of Texas at Austin, Occidental College, and the US Geological Survey. In addition, the group took the lead role in the Agouron Geobiology research project, a privately-funded research drilling project involved participants from Caltech, MIT, Harvard, Yale, the Universities of Bern, Muenster, Bremen, amongst others. The South African Department of Science and Technology Research Chair in Geometallurgy was originally granted to Prof Jens Gutzmer, starting January 2008, and was transferred to Prof Fanus Viljoen in June of 2008. Following the expiry of the first 5 year cycle of the Chair, it was subsequently renewed again for the period June 2013 to June 2018. The increasing demand for resources have resulted in a step change to lower-grade or problematic deposits that would not have been mined in the past. These require a thorough understanding of mineralogical constraints on ore processing (i.e. variations in mineral compositions, size, morphology, mineral associations, impact of grind size on liberation, and the reason for deportment of minerals to certain streams), crucial to the interpretation of metallurgical test results and the optimal operation of future (or existing, underperforming) treatment plants.

The primary thrust of geometallurgical research at UJ is therefore to research, develop, apply and teach geometallurgical methods to quantify the mineralogical and textural characteristics of ore bodies, ores, concentrates and successor products in resource types relevant to the South African minerals industry. Research is focussed on geometallurgical aspects of platinum, gold, diamond, nickel, the base metals (nickel, copper-lead-zinc, and manganese), coal and lime. Research into automated mineralogy as applied to the characterisation of ores and ore bodies is conducted on a FEI 600F Mineral Liberation Analyser at the University of Johannesburg. The instrument is located within the Central Analytical Facility of UJ (Spectrum), was purchased late 2008 by the University of Johannesburg in support of the DST Research Chair in Geometallurgy, and was delivered in January 2009. With the Mineral Liberation Analyser, ore particle cross-sections, for example, can be analysed to better understand, optimize and predict mineral processing circuit performance. In combination with laboratory scale flotation testing this provides in-depth insight into the processing behaviour of ores.



Profile photo of Prof H Winkler 


Contact: Prof H Winkler

Research in the Department:


Condensed matter

Energy research

Nuclear and Particle Physics

Science Education



Prof Willem Conradie.jpg

Contact: Prof Willem Conradie




In abstract algebra, group theory studies the algebraic structures known as groups. The concept of group is central to abstract algebra. Other well-known algebraic structures, such as rings, fields, and vector spaces can all be seen as groups endowed with additional operations and axioms. Applications of group theory abound: Various physical systems, such as crystals and the hydrogen atom, can be modelled by symmetry groups. Thus group theory and the closely related representation theory have many important applications in physics, chemistry, and materials science. Group theory is also central to public key cryptography. At UJ, research in this area focuses on the cancellability of direct summands of groups. In group theory, the question of cancellation arises very naturally in the study of algebraic systems in which there is a notion of direct sum. This has led to a much interesting research in group theory and also in the theory of rings and modules over commutative and non-commutative rings and categories related to groups. One of the interesting problems in this area is the description of the non-cancellation set and the localization genus.

​Graph Theory

The exiting and rapidly growing area of Graph Theory is rich in theoretical results as well as applications to real world problems.

One primary activity is modeling, a process involving formulating a problem in such a way that it can be attacked by techniques in Graph Theory. Applicable fields include amongst others Chemistry, Computer Science, Social Sciences, Broadcasting and Music.

In Graph Theory at UJ, we concentrate on theoretical Random Graph Theory, Domination in graphs and Additive and Hereditary Graph Theory.

Functional Analysis

In Functional Analysis research focuses on Spectral Theory in Banach algebras and Ordered Banach algebras. One can say that the theory of Banach algebras stands with its feet in analysis and its head in algebra.

Spectral theory is the study of the properties of the spectrum function and the spectral radius function. With the advent and development of the new Quantum Mechanics in the 1920’s it became increasingly obvious that the mathematical concept of “spectrum” corresponds closely to a notion already familiar in Physics. As such, contemporary research in Spectral Theory draws ideas from both these fields. Research in the Department specializes in the more abstract setting, where we employ the latest techniques to obtain results connecting the algebraic and spectral structure of elements in the particular Space.

In a somewhat different vein, research is also being conducted on connections between abstract Spectral Theory and the Theory of Generalized Inversion, the latter of which has important applications in the field of Mathematical Statistics.

Since the presence of a partial ordering in Ordered Banach algebras is not yet fully understood, research is being conducted to determine the effect of positivity on spectral and algebraic properties of elements. Ordering plays an important role in the approximation of continuous functions by positive functions, time dependent partial differential equations, computational molecular dynamics and wireless communications. Another recent research topic where positivity plays a role is the so-called Google matrix, the worlds largest one. This is a matrix with positive entries and it is used to compute the PageRank, used by the Google Web search engine.


The third area of research within the department focuses on Mathematical Logic. This is a dynamic and rapidly developing field with its origins in philosophy and the foundations of mathematics, but which these days also finds major applications within theoretical computer science, artificial intelligence, and linguistics. At UJ, research in this area focuses mainly on modal and algebraic logic. Modal logic is used to formalize and study reasoning involving the ways (or modes) in which a statement can be said to be true. Algebraic logic uses the methods of universal algebra to study logical questions. In particular, some recent outputs have investigated topics including modal correspondence and completeness theory, description logics, interpolation, logics of rational structures, (interval based) temporal logics, finite model properties, and properties of MTL chains.


Research in Applied Mathematics comprises projects in Quantum calculations; Non-linear dynamics; Deterministic chaos; Fractals; Wavelets; Cellular automata; Neural networks; Genetic algorithms; Numeric analysis; Symmetry solutions of differential equations; Computer Algebra and Software and hardware development.



Contact: Dr J van Wyk


Image representing Statistics 



Profile photo of Prof Annemarie Avenant-Oldewage  

The Department of Zoology of the UJ is a research active department with more than 1000 research papers published during the past 43 years. The department is well known for its research in freshwater biology, but also has a strong focus on population genetics and comparative morphology. Currently, 73% of the academic staff is NRF-rated researchers. The main research focus areas of the department are:

Fish Parasitology

Contact: Prof A Avenant-Oldewage

The fish parasitology laboratory studies two main topics namely the morphology and ecology of Crustacea and Monogenea parasites on fishes and the use of parasites as sentinels for pollution. The focus of the morphological and ecological studies are on the ultrastructure of the digestive and feeding structures of the parasites in order to better understand aspects of feeding and pathology. The life cycles of the parasites are also studied in an attempt to find possible manners in which to interrupt the life cycle of parasites that have serious pathological or behavioural impact on the hosts. As part of the pollution-related studies, the parasite composition is studied to understand the effect of the environment. Furthermore, the accumulation of metals by parasites is studied to evaluate the potential of parasites as sentinels for metal pollution.

Photo of a fish with a parasite 

Population Genetics

Contact: Prof Herman van der Bank


​Prof van der Bank is currently involved with a project on investigating the ecological dynamics influencing the outbreak of Imbrasia belina within the Kruger National Park. He’s responsibility is for the genetic analyses of the Mopane worm (MW). MW, the larva of the Mopane moth (Imbrasia belina) is one of the most consumed insects in southern Africa and it has valuable nutrients for humans. With recent commercialisation of MW, it is estimated that harvesting of the worm generates multi-million Rands annually. This, however, is suspected to impact negatively on the populations of I. belina and its ecosystem. Unsustainable practices – such as chopping the whole Mopane tree to get worms from tall trees and over-exploitation of the MW – have been reported. We are, therefore, aiming to address some of the ecological dynamics influencing I. belina outbreaks within KNP that should be considered in order to harvest MW sustainably.

Photo of a man holding a fish 

Fish Health and Reproductive Biology

Contact: Prof Ina Wagenaar and Dr Cobus van Dyk

The research focus of the fish health research group is on the cause-and-effect relationship between toxicant exposure and the associated histopathological and/or reproductive effects in fish. The research approach includes both field surveys of wild fish inhabiting rivers and dams, as well as controlled laboratory exposure studies. The applied methodology involves a histology-based fish health assessment protocol that allows the identification of abnormalities on cellular level using light microscopy analysis, and is applied to all major organ systems including the identification of hepatic, renal, respiratory, reproductive and cardiac responses. Research is also focussed on reproductive health of fish and mammals, with special interest in gonadal histopathology and spermatology. Recent studies focussed on sperm motility parameters and testicular histopathology as reproductive indicators of the effect of pollutants.

Image of Aquatic Toxicology and Ecophysiology  

Aquatic Toxicology and Ecophysiology

Contact: Prof Johan van Vuren, Dr Richard Greenfield

Many different types of contaminants are present in the environment with potential adverse effects on wildlife. Freshwater fish are in direct contact with the contaminated water and the effects of these compounds pose a threat to their health. Studies in the ecotoxicology and ecophysiology laboratories focus on the survival mechanisms used by fish exposed to these conditions. These studies include work on the effects of metals, growth stimulants and endocrine disrupting chemicals. The objectives of the large number of completed projects concentrated on sub-lethal effects of selected contaminants with high toxicity and marked effects on physiological functioning of organs and organ systems. The stress effects of chronic and periodic exposure are studied in different environments to determine physiological changes on cellular and sub-cellular levels of organisation. A variety of carefully selected biomarkers are used to show changes in the physiology of an organism that may lead to serious impairments of normal metabolic pathways and reactions that compromise the health of the exposed organism. The effects of aquatic contamination on invertebrate diversity and population structure are also studied in wetlands with special emphasis on perennial and endorheic pans. Water and sediment quality are assessed to identify kinds and sources of pollutants.

Image of Aquatic Toxicology and Ecophysiology researchers  


Contact: Prof John Maina

Prof Maina has extensively researched the area of comparative respiratory functional morphology and developmental biology. Animals at different phylogenetic- and developmental levels, those that pursue different behaviours and lifestyles, and those that inhabit diverse ecological environments and habitats, especially the extreme ones (i.e., those that live in severe habitats), have and continue to be investigated. The following questions have directed his research inquiry: How? Why? and When? have gas exchangers (respiratory organs/structures) adaptively and developmentally evolved and formed to provide the necessary demands for molecular oxygen? Insights into the mechanism(s) and the processes by which gas exchangers inaugurated and refined to their high fidelity modern states have and continue to be gained using microscopic, stereological (morphometric), molecular biology, mathematical and computational modelling, and three-dimensional reconstruction techniques. Other areas of research include cellular defences of the respiratory systems and the effects of inhaled pathogens and particulates on them, the basis of the mechanical strength of the blood-gas barrier, and the adaptive respiratory physiology of the Lake Magadi extreme tilapia fish, Alcolapia grahami. His more recent research direction is that of investigating nanoparticle uptake across the avian lung and diffusion in the body.

Photo of Prof John Maina conducting respiration research  

Molecular Zoology

Contact: Prof Bettine Jansen van Vuuren, Prof Peter Teske

The main focus areas of the Molecular Zoology research group includes phylogeography, conservation biology and landscape genetics. Species have defined geographic distributions, which are shaped by the physical landscape as well as the biology and specific requirements of the species. One of the major goals in conservation is to understand the patterns and processes that underlie species' distributions. To this end, our research group studies the genetic diversity and spatial distribution of various terrestrial and marine species distributed across Southern Africa, as well as the sub-Antarctic and Antarctic region. Our findings are placed in a conservation and biogeographic framework and help to inform conservation policies.

Photo of researcher conducting Molecular Ecology and Systematics Research - Prof Bettine Jansen van Vuuren 

Photo of Prof Peter Teske 

Also the Department is supervising Masters studies in nanoscience in collaboration with the Department of Applied Chemistry. Another area of investigation is  radiation detection in mines and rivers. Also the Department is supervising Masters studies in nanoscience in collaboration with the Department of Applied Chemistry. Another area of investigation is  radiation detection in mines and rivers.

Karst Ecology

Photo of Dr Francois Durand conducting research 

Contact: Dr Francois du ​Rand​


Karst ecology includes the study of cave and groundwater ecology in the dolomite regions of South Africa.  Aspects of these studies include: Bat roosting and foraging behaviour, Invertebrate food webs associated with bat guano and Stygobitic (groundwater-dwelling) invertebrates).  In addition to this research we also look at the impact of Acid Mine Drainage on the karst system on the West Rand, including the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.​