Dr Thulani Makhalanyane won the 2014/15 NSTF Award for an emerging researcher (post-doc in a period of up to six years after award of a PhD or equivalent). He is a mentor to postgraduate students at the University of Pretoria (UP), where he is currently based, and lectures third-year students at UP’s Department of Genetics.

During National Science Week in August, Dr Makhalanyane addressed Grade 6-12 learners in Tshitavha village in Limpopo on his life and work, and career options available in the field of microbial ecology. The lecture was organised by the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto Science Centre, led by Prof Azwinndini Muronga.

Dr Makhalanyane explained that his research is specifically about extreme environments. His work is focused on understanding microbial diversity and functionality in these locations, with much of his research taking place in Antarctica, and the Namib Desert.

He advised learners on the steps to take should they wish to become leading researchers. These include finding your own niche, working on improving yourself every day, creating a  good support system, learning to deal with failure, handling success with poise, and treating the people around you with respect.

He explained that research in microbial ecology could be applied in a wide range of fields, including soil health, water pollution, food safety, sustainable energy sources, bio-mining, drug discovery (human health and nutrition), paleobiology and paleogenomics, and forensic science.

Dr Makhalanyane also addressed Grade 9 to 11 learners from various schools at the Moipone Science Centre in Tembisa on 7 August 2015, and participated in a Motivational Speech Day at the Zipunzini Community Hall in Piet Retief, Mpumalanga, on 15 August 2015.

The NSTF thanks Prof Muronga and the UJ Soweto Science Centre team for the opportunity to introduce NSTF award winners to rural communities, and commends them for the great work they are doing. Thanks also to Dr Thulani Makhalanyane for taking the time and making the effort to address learners about his work, thereby inspiring them to consider careers in science and technology.