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30 under 30: Wielding Chemistry to Create a Healthier World

Meet Banothile Makhubela, one of the promising young chemists attending the 2013 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting



Courtesy of Banothile Makhubela

Each year hundreds of the best and brightest researchers gather in Lindau, Germany, for the Nobel Laureate Meeting. There, the newest generation of scientists mingles with Nobel Prize winners and discusses their work and ideas. The 2013 meeting is dedicated to chemistry and will involve young researchers from 78 different countries. In anticipation of the event, which will take place from June 30 through July 5, we are highlighting a group of attendees under 30 who represent the future of chemistry. The following profile is the third in a series of 30.

Name: Banothile Makhubela
Age: 28
Born: Mzinti, Mpumalanga Province, South Africa
Nationality: South African

Current position: Postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Cape Town
Education: BS in chemistry and mathematics, University of Zululand; BS (with honors), MS and PhD in chemistry, University of Cape Town

What is your field of research?
Organometallic chemistry with applications in catalysis, medicine and nanomaterials

What drew you to chemistry, and to that research area in particular?
When I was introduced to the subject of chemistry as part of my schooling curriculum, it simply made sense, so naturally I took a keen interest in it. I was later intrigued by the inherent properties of transition metal compounds such as redox [oxidation-reduction] activity, light absorption and emission as well as ligand exchange reactions, which allow for the compounds’ applicability in catalysis and biomedicines as well as in other areas.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
The future contains many challenges and threats that need to be addressed in order for humanity to survive. Areas needing decisive action include health, climate, energy, water, pandemics and food supply. Inevitably, research and science are two important role players or tools to address these grand challenges.

As a young researcher, I am motivated to fervently pursue scientific research in my discipline and area of expertise with the goal of contributing to innovative solutions to health problems and to respond to the need for greener chemistry practices. I acknowledge that such goals will require multidisciplinary scientific collaborations to generate innovative new discoveries.

Who are your scientific heroes?
My hero is Dorothy Mary Hodgkin, one of the pioneer scientists in the field of x-ray crystallography studies of biomolecules. She is particularly noted for discovering three-dimensional biomolecular structures, and one of her most influential discoveries is the confirmation of the structure of vitamin B12, for which she was awarded the [1964] Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

I am inspired by the way she and her colleagues were determined and persevered to elucidate three-dimensional biomolecular structures, and in the process pushed scientific boundaries by leading the way to field of x-ray crystallography.

What activities outside of chemistry do you most enjoy?
I enjoy hiking, traveling, reading and have founded an outreach program that seeks to promote science in high schools of my community.

What do you hope to gain from this year’s Lindau meeting?
It's rare that a researcher gets to ask questions directly of a Nobel laureate, and I am honored to be one of those offered this opportunity to listen to laureates' personal stories as well as to ask questions about their research careers and about the environments and contexts that turned them into pioneers.

I am also attending the meeting to gain specific scientific insights and network as well as to seek inspiration and encouragement to push scientific boundaries as a young scientist.

Are there any Nobelists whom you are particularly excited to meet?
Robert Grubbs and Richard Schrock, Ada Yonath, Akira Suzuki, Dan Shechtman, Gerhard Ertl, Kurt Wüthrich, Walter Kohn and Harald zur Hausen.

« Previous
2. Bill Morandi
30 Under 30:
Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting
Tomorrow
4. David Bialas

 

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