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With the exhaustion of natural resources, there is a dire need to preserve and maintain resources such as access to disease-free, potable water.

The Durban University of Technology’s (DUT’s) Professor Feroz Mahomed Swalaha is one of DUT’s dynamic and passionate professors whose work in the field of Biotechnology continuously looks at finding alternate solutions for water treatment and safety through his research work.

The Head of the Department of Biotechnology and Food Science, at the DUT believes in excelling in this field, having started out his career in applied microbiology, and proving his research mettle by recently obtaining his C2 NRF rating, a sterling accolade for the university and DUT community at large.

Prof Swalaha has worked extensively in the fields of biological wastewater treatment with the aid of mathematical modelling and statistical experimental design, with the aim to find plausible solutions to water treatment and to the provision of safe drinking water.

Prof Swalaha has also previously worked on modelling anaerobic digestion using genetic algorithms, applying constructed wetlands to urban water treatment and algal scrubbing of CO2 emissions from waste industrial gases.

He is currently heading a unit for waterborne pathogens and is investigating the efficacy of pathogenic E. coli removal during wastewater treatment, risks of transfer on Legionella spp in agricultural products and development of standards for viral pathogen monitoring in rivers as well as new methods for treatment of enteric viruses before discharging wastewater.

As the Head of Department of Biotechnology and Food Science for four years, Prof Swalaha’s role entails managing all aspects of a very large department with two programme streams, 14 core programmes and one that is heavily involved in research and frequently produces over 80 publications per annum.

Prof Swalaha has achieved many academic goals, listing obtaining a master’s degree (Cum Laude), a DTech in 2010, a certificate of Recognition Award in 2013 for being part of the top research group at DUT, many teaching and research awards to his department over four years from the faculty, as some of his greatest achievements.

All researchers have had to overcome challenges, and Prof Swalaha is no exception to the rule.

“As I have been appointed as a full-time HoD in 2018, the administrative load has increased steeply, and this has been somewhat detrimental to my personal research aspirations. However, I have persevered and attempted to keep up both my research and publication rates, culminating in the successful NRF rating,” he said.

For Prof Swalaha, obtaining his five-year C2 NRF rating had come as a somewhat good surprise.

“Honestly, it’s been over a year since I applied in January 2020 and there have been very many other challenges in the interim due to Covid and the management of my department. It did come as a surprise due to the long-time lag between application and the award. The award means I am firmly established as a researcher and may enjoy some recognition, internationally for the quality and impact of my research. This feeds into the DUT ethos of providing a distinctive education where researchers are recognised both nationally and internationally and we can attract a better quality of student and collaborate with a more diverse array of partners. I am now able to apply for research funding as a rated researcher which may be of a higher value improving financial sustainability,” he added.

He also believes it is not so vital for academics to have the rating as this is a South African body doing the rating, but it does increase one’s standing in South Africa to be rated by the NRF.

Prof Swalaha has indicated that having a C2 research rating does enhance the visibility of work that one is doing in the research community.

“The university does get recognised for having more rated researchers on their staff, and students benefit from having a recognised researcher teach and supervise them. The rating is a recognition of the work that I have been doing in terms of the quality and impact. Those will not change,” he commented.

He encourages researchers to work hard, be focused and continue to consistently produce good quality research to be able to fulfil the requirements for rating.

Also sending her good wishes was the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Engagement at the DUT, Prof Sibusiso Moyo.

She relayed that as part of DUT’S ENVISION2030 Sustainability perspective, having NRF Rated Researchers is one of the ways DUT can create sustainable research and an innovation enterprise, with a capacity to contribute to the doctoral skills training and mentoring of the next generation scholars.

Presently, Prof Swalaha divulged that he and his team are currently working on both establishing virus-based water quality standards as well as treatment of viruses in water using various methods, including nanomaterials developed from plant-based products.

“We have been funded for this and the rating will allow me to continue this work as I am applying for further funding to conclude the virus standards and disinfection development work,” he said.

Pictured: Professor Feroz Mahomed Swalaha

Waheeda Peters

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