In honour of Black History Month we will be recognising notable contributions to the STEMs from people of African origin. Today we recognise Prof. Tebello Nyokong.
Born in Lesotho (1951), Prof. Nyokong grew up from humble beginnings to become a distinguished professor in Medicinal Chemistry and Nanotechnology at Rhodes University in South Africa. As a child, she had experience working as a shepherd on alternate days from school and also mixing cement and concrete for her fathers company. These experiences helped instil in her a sense of handwork and appreciation for the great science around her. She started off her education studying Arts and Humanities but switched to science to complete her BSc in Chemistry and Biology from the National University of Lesotho in 1977. She went on to complete a Chemistry MSc and PhD in Canada.
Prof. Nyokong has worked in multiple lecturing and reseaching positions and is currently the Director of the DST/Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre (NIC)-Sensors. She is lauded for her pioneering research into photodynamic therapy for cancer treatment, an alternative form of cancer treatment which does not have many of the side effects associated with chemotherapy such as nausea and hair loss. Her work has earned her election as a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa and awarded a Distinguished Woman in Chemistry. She is also a member of the Academy of Sciences of South Africa, received an ‘A’ rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF) and was one of the first South African scientists to win the L’Oréal-UNESCO award for women in science in 2009. Prof. Nyokong has been appointed to the UNESCO High-level panel on Science, Technology and Innovation for sustainable Development (2011) and is a recipient of multiple awards including an induction to the Lesotho Hall of Fame (2010), Distinguished Woman in Chemistry (2011) and a Lifetime Achievement award (2013).
In addition to her research, Prof. Nyokong has published over 400 papers including book chapters and holds a patent. She also has over 50 MSc/PhD students who have graduated under her supervision and continues to particularly train women in the sophisticated skills needed to keep South Africa at the cutting edge of scientific development. She continues to advocate for scientific innovation in Africa and the need for a new generation of role models to spear head the continent’s development especially in the area of science and technology.