NSTF-South32 Awards
recognising outstanding contributions to
science, engineering and technology (SET) and innovation in South Africa


Today’s research … tomorrow’s innovation

The finalists for the prestigious 2020/2021 NSTF-South32 Awards have been announced. The winners will be announced live on the NSTF YouTube channel on Thursday 30 September 2021. Watch your mailbox for news about the hybrid Awards Gala Event.

What is new in the 2020/2021 round of Awards?


There are no changes to the criteria of categories, apart from the following:

1. Special Annual Theme Award: The NSTF is making a special award this year for an outstanding contribution to SET and innovation towards the “Creative Economy for Sustainable Development”. This Special Award is intended to focus on research, development and innovation in the area of the Creative Economy in support of sustainable socio-economic growth in South Africa. This is in recognition of the declaration by the United Nations of the year of the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development.

Quoting from the UN website “The creative economy has no single definition. It is an evolving concept which builds on the interplay between human creativity and ideas and intellectual property, knowledge and technology. Essentially it is the knowledge-based economic activities upon which the ‘creative industries’ are based.

The creative industries – which include advertising, architecture, arts and crafts, design, fashion, film, video, photography, music, performing arts, publishing, research & development, software, computer games, electronic publishing, and TV/radio – are the lifeblood of the creative economy. They are also considered an important source of commercial and cultural value.

The creative economy is the sum of all the parts of the creative industries, including trade, labour and production. Today, the creative industries are among the most dynamic sectors in the world economy providing new opportunities for developing countries to leapfrog into emerging high-growth areas of the world economy”.

In exploring this for the NSTF, and bearing in mind that we do not want to move outside our remit of science , technology , engineering (SET) and innovation in this framework the scope of nominations could include:

* All areas of SET and innovation that contribute to the knowledge base that supports all areas of the creative economy in a sustainable manner in SA.

* Research and development which seeks to add to and builds on this knowledge base in SA.

* The creative economy embraces advertising, arts and crafts, fashion, film, video, photography, music, performing arts, computer games, TV/radio and electronic publishing.  In these areas, we restrict what the award embraces to the science, technology and engineering and related innovations which supports these elements in a sustainable manner but not the art per se.

* The creative economy also embraces, architecture, software for the above, design of household goods, and industrial goods, associated materials and practices.  We consider that where in these areas, research and development leads to innovations which are creative in character and could be nominated within the framework of one of the established awards, these could be considered in this category.

* The subject area of recycling can also be part of the creative economy, and noting from our criteria that we are not offering a classical design award, activities in the area of re-cycling  which could be considered within the framework of one of the established awards, could be considered in this category.

* Finding innovative solutions to challenges in the creative economy, including solutions based on indigenous knowledge systems (IKS), directed towards South Africa’s sustainable development, particularly for job creation and the alleviation of poverty will also be considered in this category.

2. Data for Research Award: The NSTF under the guidance of a team of experts through the Data Intensive Research Initiative of South Africa (DIRISA) and the Network of Data and Information Curation Communities (NeDICC) has re-modelled this category. The NSTF continues this category introduced in 2017, which is meant to acknowledge the work of an individual or a team (including for example researchers/scientists; data scientists; data stewards; innovators; and repository and data centre managers) to be rewarded for the generation, preservation, sharing and/or re-use of a valuable scientific output – the research data set. Data products, data repositories and data centres are also eligible for team recognition. The intention is to recognise the value of a data set that is of national interest or for the public good, and that is openly available to be re-used and / or re-packaged in products that are of public good and interest, or that could be integrated into products that contribute to the development of South Africa.

3. The NSTF-Lewis Foundation Green Economy Research and Innovation Award was introduced in 2015 under the sponsorship of GreenMatter. In 2018 the sponsorship was taken over by The Lewis Foundation. This year The Lewis Foundation, whilst still associated with the NSTF, has moved its funding to the NSTF Brilliants Programme (for the top science and mathematics matriculants). The NSTF has decided to discontinue the NSTF Green Economy Award until a new sponsor comes forward which we hope will be soon.

And we remind you of previous changes that we continue with:

4. Communication Award: Please take note that for this category, there is a special call to professional science communicators to apply.

5. Innovation Awards: We introduced a major change to the Innovation category in 2017 and continue to give greater emphasis on ‘innovation’. These awards are now called the ‘Awards for Innovations and their research and/or development’ over the last 5 to 10 years through either an small, medium or micro enterprise (SMME) or a corporate organisation.

6. Research categories: Other changes introduced two years are to allow all research categories to be open to anyone involved in research. It was previously implied that a PhD was a pre-requisite. We have changed the definition so that this is clearly not the case, and we have strengthened the focus on the further development of outputs towards innovation. The periods are now clearly anchored to the commencement of the research.


The deadline for online nomination registrations this year is 14 December 2020.  Full nomination documents have to be submitted by the second deadline (2nd March 2021).

The Categories

Individual Research Awards

There are four sub-categories for individuals only, in research and its outputs and related fields. Contributions over a lifetime, research and its outputs for researchers and emerging researchers, as well as for management and related SET activities over defined periods.

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Engineering Research Capacity Development  Awards

The individuals must have demonstrated outstanding leadership in increasing the participation of young scientists and engineers in further research in an engineering field, over the past 5 to 10 years.

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The NSTF-Lewis Foundation Green Economy Research and Innovation Award

The NSTF-Green Economy Award recognises researchers and organisations working towards achieving biodiversity conservation, environmental sustainability and a green economy.

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NSTF-Water Research Commission Award

The Water Research Commission (WRC) has partnered with the NSTF to establish an award that acknowledges outstanding contributions towards sustainable water management, knowledge generation and solutions over the last 5 to 10 years.

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Data for Research Award

NSTF Award for an outstanding contribution to science, engineering and technology (SET) by advancing the availability, management and use of data for research

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Awards for Innovation and their Research and/or Development

These awards are made to teams or individuals in organisations (corporate and SMMEs) or working independently, who have made outstanding contributions to SET through innovations and their impacts, over the last 5 to 10 years. For assessment of these awards,  underlying research and/or development is taken into account where applicable.

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Communication Award

The NSTF Award for Communication for Outreach and Creating Awareness of science, engineering and technology (SET) and innovation.

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NGO Award

The NSTF NGO Award is for any non-governmental organisation which has made an outstanding contribution to science, engineering and technology (SET) and innovation in South Africa, including but not limited to technology transfer and education and training activities.

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Special Annual Theme Award

For 2020 this Award is made for a contribution to SET and Innovation which contributes to Plant Health.

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