About Prof Philiswa Nomngongo
Professor Philiswa N. Nomngongo graduated with BSc Applied Chemistry, BSc (Hons) and MSc in Chemistry from University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in 2008, 2009 and 2011, respectively. She then completed a PhD in Chemistry (specializing in Analytical Chemistry) from the University of Johannesburg (UJ), in 2014. While at UKZN and UJ, she worked as a tutor, demonstrator and an assistant lecturer. In addition, she held a post-doctoral position (at UJ) in analytical chemistry research lab whose primary focus was on method development. During her post-doctoral studies, she got a L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Sub-Saharan Regional Fellowship 2014 Award. She recently won the DST award for women in Science and the University of Johannesburg promising young researcher award for scientific excellence.
My research focus is on metal analysis in the environment (water, soil and plants), food, petroleum and pharmaceuticals products as well as in cooking utensils. This is because even though certain metals at small amounts such as copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel and zinc, etc., are essential for plant growth, while others such as iron, zinc, copper, manganese, chromium, molybdenum and selenium, are necessary for animal and human health, if present in excessive concentrations they become toxic. Metal bioavailability and toxicity depend on their speciation. One of the challenges of determining the levels on metals in the above samples is the suitability of the analytical techniques (instruments). Before the metal levels in these samples can be determined, suitable pretreatment methods (sample preparation) must be used so as to convert the metals in forms that are appropriate for the measurements. Metal toxicity is dependent on the species (forms) in which they exist.
In view of the above challenges, my research interest is to develop suitable sample preparation techniques so as to optimize the measurements of these toxic materials. Thus the emphasis of her work is to come up with experimental designs using computer modelling (chemometrics) so as to improve sensitivity of the analytical instruments (detection limits) as well increase the throughput and lower the cost of sample analysis.
These studies will benefit the society by helping the industries (such as mining and environmental groups) to make informed decisions on how to protect ecosystems and human health in our society. In terms of the economy, the research field aims to improve sample handling procedures so as to make it easier to characterize, detect and monitor metal pollutants using cheaper instrumentation. With regards to environmental health issues, heavy metals are highly soluble in the aquatic environment and are absorbed by living organisms and therefore end up in the human body and can cause mild to serious health disorders. Thus the research field contributes to effective