“I was elated and happy that my perseverance and hard work was finally recognised and rewarded,” said the jubilant Dr Stanley Onwubu.
He is the winner in the category of the Top Published Doctoral Student of the Year Award, at the recent Staff and Research and Innovation Awards.
Dr Onwubu is from the Faculty of Health Sciences. He holds a doctoral degree in Dental Technology. His research interest and expertise is in the area of Nanomaterials, Dental materials, Biomaterials and Mechanochemistry.
In this category the criteria for the award was that the applicant must be currently studying towards their Doctorate; be involved in research and/or creative work and must have published at least one accredited publication unit before the application.
Speaking more about his research, Dr Onwubu said the title of his thesis was: The development of a nano-sized eggshell and titanium dioxide desensitising paste to re-mineralise teeth.
“Traditionally, the treatment of Dentin hypersensitivity (DH) is the use of at-home desensitising toothpaste. While there is a variety of desensitising paste such as Sensodyne® and Colgate sensitive Pro-Relief TM to treat DH, the dentin tubule remineralising characteristics of these paste are, however, limited in an acidic environment which could result in DH relapse,” he said.
He relayed that the limiting abilities of these desensitising paste prompted this study to develop a desensitising agent using nano-sized eggshell-titanium dioxide (EB@TiO2) as an active ingredient in the management of DH.
“In phase one of this study, different characterisation techniques such as Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR); X-ray Diffraction (XRD); Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy (EDX) and Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM); High Transmission Electron Microscopy (HRTEM); and Thermo-Gravimetric were used to confirm the modification of EB@TiO2. Phase two, on the other hand, assesses the suitability of the EB@TiO2 as an oral healthcare product by examining its cytotoxicity and antibacterial properties,” he said.
Dr Onwubu indicated that by contrast, phase three investigated the quality of the EB@TiO2 as a new approach to the management of DH, and overall, the study had contributed significantly to the body of knowledge through publications, conferences, and book chapters.
“During the study period, fifteen articles were published, 10 conferences both internationally and locally arose from the study. In addition, five book chapters were also published,” he said.
Dr Onwubu stressed that the reason he chose such a topic was with the aim to develop novel dental materials to manage and treat dentine hypersensitivity from waste materials.
“Given that chicken, eggshell is abundantly available as waste in South Africa, and drawing inspiration from my master’s degree study, the concept to use eggshells to develop value-added products became very important. The core goal was to address tooth sensitivity -which is public health concern whilst contributing significantly towards a greener environment in South Africa by using waste materials. I have had a keen interest in the area of nanomaterials and mechanochemistry,” he said.
He also added that this is because mechanochemistry offers a much cleaner, cheaper and environmentally friendly way of synthesising nanomaterials using the top-down approach.
“As such, my goal is to explore ways to improve the materials. To this, I have diversified into using eggshell waste to synthesis nanohydroxyapatite, which is the main component of bones and teeth to treat sensitive teeth. My goal is to assess clinically the effectiveness of these materials. This will keep in the process of commercialising the product,” he said.
Dr Onwubu expressed his gratitude towards the two academic erudite, Professor PS Mdluli and Professor Shenuka Singh. Their roles were very evident throughout his thesis and paper publication. Prof Mdluli is an expert in nanomaterials and mechanochemistry while Prof Singh an expert in public health dentistry.
“The two combining their strength offer me a unique experience and I was able to learn and grow. I was afforded the freedom to make mistakes and learn. There was no protocol, I had timely access to them and they were always available and ready to help and support me. Their duty and support go beyond their role as supervisors. I see them as father and mother figures, mentors and guidance. I am grateful to God for leading me to them,” he said.
Elaborating on his plans for 2021 at DUT, he said that he is currently pursuing a post-doctoral fellowship at DUT with Prof PS Mdluli, his host, in the department of Chemistry.
“I was fortunate to be among those awarded NRF post-doctoral fellowship for this year,” he said.
Dr Onwubu highlighted that he has never stopped researching, and always sees himself as a researcher. “Developing new concepts and publishing article is what gives me joy and self-fulfilment. In other words, I derive enormous joy and happiness when I get an article accepted or published,” he said.
His advice to students wanting to do their PhD in the Faculty of Health Sciences is to have the courage to pursue their dreams.
“There is no better time to start but now. Regardless of the enormous challenges, they may face I will advise that they remain rigid towards their dream whilst flexible in ways they are to achieve it,” he said.
Dr Onwubu also appreciates the support he had received from his friends and family, especially Maleni Thakur.
“She was there during the most difficult moment and supported me through. Prof Nokuthula Sibiya, Prof Ashley Ross, Prof Jinabhai, Prof Thakur, Mr Sugen and many others. I say thank you,” he said.
Pictured: Dr Stanley Onwubu