The Power List 2020 – Africa
Professor and SASOL Chair in Analytical Polymer Science, Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Reason for pursuing analytical science: As a PhD student I worked on a project that aimed to create new molecular structures using polycondensation reactions. I soon found that classical size-exclusion chromatography was not sufficient for a comprehensive analysis of these structures, and I started to make use of HPLC for chemical composition separation. Getting interested in the analytical method development itself, I moved from polymer synthesis to polymer characterization projects, ultimately finding myself doing research on the hyphenation and comprehensive coupling of fractionation and spectroscopic technologies.
Greatest inspiration: There have been a few mentors and colleagues that inspired me scientifically. Most of all I admired people that were able to combine scientific excellence with a strong talent in music and the arts, such as Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein.
Future of the field: I hope that the polymer industry will eventually understand that only comprehensive analytical protocols will enable sophisticated development of novel materials. Such protocols require broad applications for AI approaches. In 20 years, integrated multidimensional analytical technologies coupled to robotics and AI will be standard at state-of-the-art analytical laboratories.
Time travel destination: I would go to Freiburg, Germany, in the 1920s to meet Hermann Staudinger (Nobel prize in Chemistry 1953), and to watch him arguing with the traditionalist organic chemists over the existence of macromolecules that we call polymers today.
Advice to younger self: Work harder on your research subjects. Allocate more time to play your favorite musical instrument.