School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science

A view of the PRIS 2022 studio with Professor Neil Koorbanally in the background during the keynote address by Professor Debra Roberts.

Climate Change and Top Scientific Research Spotlighted at Annual Research Symposium

Innovative research projects being undertaken by master’s and doctoral students were presented online at UKZN’s annual Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium (PRIS) hosted by the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES).

More than 800 people joined the virtual presentations over two days.

CAES Dean of Research Professor Neil Koorbanally welcomed delegates, describing PRIS as a highlight on the calendar providing postgraduate students from the College’s five schools an opportunity to showcase their research in a conference format to a wide audience of internal and external stakeholders.

‘This year’s theme is climate change, and we are hoping that this will allow our presenters to demonstrate how their research impacts lives in South Africa, on the continent and in the rest of the world,’ said Koorbanally.

The Technology Innovation Agency’s (TIA) Acting Executive of Innovation Enabling, Mr Vusi Skosana spoke in the opening session, highlighting the agency’s role in implementing the government’s science and innovation strategies and saying that the research being presented was important for innovation skills development. TIA sponsored R15 000 in prize money for each School.

UKZN alumnus and Honorary Professor Debra Roberts presented the keynote address, during which she said it was an excellent opportunity to present to her alma mater and highlight some of the key messages emerging from the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes (IPCC) Working Group II (WGII) Sixth Assessment Report on Climate Change: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability – key areas for African research.

Roberts is the Co-Chair of the IPCC WGII with Germany’s Professor Hans-Otto Pörtner, Durban’s first Chief Resilience Officer and the first local government practitioner to hold the role of a Working Group Co-Chair, in which she is supported by a WGII Technical Support Unit at UKZN.

Roberts emphasised the inarguable threat of climate change to human well-being and planetary health, saying that further delays in concerted global action would result in missing the rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future for all, but that the report provided solutions.

She highlighted the vulnerability of human and natural communities and explored the challenge of achieving climate-resilient development as adaptation had to be sustained and accelerated alongside mitigation efforts.

After the opening session, students from the College’s five Schools of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Science; Chemistry and Physics; Engineering; Life Sciences, and Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, presented a range of diverse research in parallel online sessions.

The presentations were assessed by internal academics and external stakeholders, and external judges had the opportunity to learn about the ingenious work being carried out by UKZN’s postgraduate students in the sciences, challenge students to produce and present research to industry standards and enhance collaboration between UKZN and their organisations.

On the same day, 19 organisations, research institutes, and companies presented to and took questions from UKZN students on scholarships, bursaries, internships, research collaborations, and job opportunities in a virtual industry session. The session included lucky draws with significant prizes sponsored by RS Components and UKZN’s Information and Communication Services (ICS).

The second day comprised four parallel sessions with over 100 virtual flash presentations from students. Each presenter had five minutes to showcase their research for assessment by internal and external judges.

The event concluded with a prize-giving session where the top three presentations from each School in both the oral and flash presentation categories were rewarded, with a special prize in each category, per School, based on voting from the audience for the research that demonstrated the greatest impact. There were also several lucky draw prizes awarded by industry sponsors MTN, 2Cana, Eskom, and UKZN’s ICS division.

Koorbanally’s vote of thanks included overall organiser Ms Leena Rajpal, the Moodle co-ordinating committee, the technical committee, social media and website champions, the ICS technical support team, the CAES management, session chairs and co-hosts, internal and external judges, the Discipline of Computer Science for providing venues and equipment for the two-day event and rehearsals, and the Public Relations committee.

Koorbanally recognised the 32 industry representatives who sponsored and exhibited at the event despite a challenging year.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Sashlin Girraj