Usisipho Feleni (Moody UMAPS Scholar, Winter 2022 Cohort) is a senior lecturer at the Nanotechnology and Sustainability Research Unit in the School of Science, University of South Africa. She was recently promoted to associate professor in February 2022 while at the University of Michigan (U-M) as a scholar in the UMAPS Winter 2022 Cohort. She worked with Bart Bartlett in the Chemistry department while conducting her research based on the development of a photocatalytic reaction using a combination of titania and graphitic carbon nitride nanocomposite for primary alcohol oxidation.

During her visit, she applied for the STEM-Africa Initiative Collaborative Faculty Seed Grant and was awarded up to $10,000.00 for her collaborative project entitled “Electroconductive polymer-doped hexagonal boron nitride for photocatalytic primary alcohol oxidation.” This research fund gave her an opportunity to attain a start-up fund and for her to return to U-M to perform research activities.

In 2022, she also received the Principal Prize Award for Excellence in Research, the second-highest prize for research at Unisa, following the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research. The Prize is targeted at young and developing researchers (not older than 35 years) or groups who have achieved academic research excellence of the highest quality as published in the preceding two years. The research cohort comprises scholars who are generally in the minority throughout the national higher education system.

Other awards include the Half a Million Rand Award for NRF-SAASTA grant of R500,000, which recognizes a researcher who has received external funding for his/her research from R500,000.00 to R1 million, and the Learned membership Award for the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS). An important measure in this regard involves the recognition of achievements in the form of awards and notable memberships. External awards and memberships serve to provide credible affirmation of excellence.

In addition to receiving the UMAPS Fellowship, Feleni attained the TWAS-UNESCO Associateship Scheme Grant 2022-2024, a grant that selects experienced researchers from developing countries and provides them with financial support through a grant to enable them to visit during a period of three years, a center of excellence in the South for Research collaboration in the field of natural sciences. In this case, Feleni will make two research collaborative visits to the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences (RCEES, CAS).