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Phuthi Ngoepe (1953 – )

The Order of Mapungubwe in

Phuthi Ngoepe (1953 – ) Awarded for:
His excellent achievements in the field of natural sciences and contributing to the development of computer modelling studies at the University of Limpopo.
Profile of Phuthi Ngoepe

Prof Phuthi Ngoepe matriculated at Setotolwane High School in Limpopo.

He furthered his studies at the University of the North were he obtained a BSc (Mathematics and Physics) and BSc Honours (Physics) an MSc (Physics) cum laude Unisa and a PhD (Physics) University of the Witwatersrand.

Ngoepe went back to his roots to contribute to the development of young university students. He joined the University of the North (now University of Limpopo) as a junior lecturer in 1977. He became associate professor in 1990, professor in 1992 and senior professor in 2006. Between 1994 and 1996, Ngoepe became a dean in the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. He became a director in the Materials Modelling Centre in 1996 and a Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Fellow in 1997.

Ngoepe’s hard work in physics produced a computational material modelling centre. The University of Limpopo is a historically black disadvantaged university that suffered decades of academic neglect.

Through Ngoepe’s efforts, today, it is one of the leading centres within South Africa’s Higher Education landscape where computer modelling is conducted on material for a broad range of industrial applications; among other things, on energy-storage devices, minerals, polymers and metal alloys.

Ngoepe uses computer modelling to predict properties of material and to simulate them under extreme conditions where actual experiments would be more costly. Computer simulations have become a useful part of the mathematical modelling of many natural systems in physics, chemistry, biology, economics, psychology, mining, material science and in the process of engineering new technology with a purpose to gain insight into the operation of those systems.

Traditionally, the formal modelling of systems has been via a mathematical model, which attempts to find analytical solutions to problems, which enable the prediction of the behaviour of a system from a set of parameters and initial conditions. Ngoepe’s research group has derived some of the first models used for studies into sulphide mineral ores in which platinum group metals reside. He is currently running one of the first flagship projects at the recently established Centre of High Performance Computing in Cape Town, where simulations act like a mathematical microscope, producing images in battery material similar to those observed by electron microscopes.

In his research work, Ngoepe has collaborated extensively locally and internationally and has promoted a critical mass of black MSc and PhD students.

He has lifted computational modelling technology to the level of industrial applications to examine the structure of material at an atomic level to speed up the process of calculating the strength and other properties of material. This is especially useful to South Africa as it attempts to optimise the industrial applications of its wealth of natural resources; in this way, adding to the market value. For example, an understanding of platinum-based alloys, their beneficiation and processing would increase the value of these mineral resources to South Africa’s economy.

Ngoepe has served on numerous science boards and commissions. He was on the 1995 Advisory Panel to the Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology in appointing the Council of the Foundation for Research and Development (FRD). He was also a member of the Council of the FRD (later the National Research Foundation). He served as a member of the South African Institute of Physics Council from 1995 to 1999. He was a member of the Advisory Panel for the National Research and Technology Audit between 1996 and 1997. Ngoepe was also a member of the Research Committee of the South African Universities Vice-Chancellors’ Association in 1998. He participated in the South African Nanotechnology Initiative.

He also served on the South African Power Utility Research Advisory Board, the Mintek Board (2000) and is currently chairperson of the Council for Geoscience. He is also a member of the Editorial Board of Molecular Simulations (Journal), Gordon and Breach, United Kingdom.

Prof Phuthi Ngoepe has made a huge scientific contribution to a university bereft of bare necessities under apartheid. Despite his potential access to more prestigious universities elsewhere, Prof Ngoepe stayed the course, believing that his presence at a historically disadvantaged university would help create more Ngoepes.

Prof Ngoepe currently holds a South African Chair on Computational Modelling of Material at the University of Limpopo.