Alumnus Martin Ntwaeborwa is currently a professor at the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Physics.
Awards and recognition from far and wide
Martin has penned more than 100 articles and several book chapters, and has received awards such as the Young Black Researcher Award from the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) in 2009.
He is also president of the SA Nanotechnology Initiative, member of the adjudication panel of the NSTF, representing the education sector, board member of the National Centre for High-resolution Transmission Electron Microscopy (CHRTEM), director of the UNESCO-TWAS Centre of Excellence, and board member of the Department of Materials Science at iThemba Labs.
Nanotechnology trailblazer remembers his roots
NWU alumnus Prof Martin Ntwaeborwa is regarded as a research trailblazer in the field of nanotechnology locally and abroad, a world far removed from his upbringing in the remote village of Mokasa in Taung, North West Province.
His mother, Elsie Keikanetswe Ntwaeborwa, was a domestic worker in Gauteng, so it was up to Martin’s grandmother, Louisa Mammoni Mosalanyane, to raise him and his siblings on the little money his mother sent home from her piece job in the city.
Martin loves to spend time with his wife Molly and son Tlotlang.“My childhood was not easy,” recalls Martin, “as we were raised by our unemployed grandmother from childhood to adulthood.” He remembers having to repeat a grade in primary school as his school fees had not been paid and so he could not write the year-end examinations.
Making up for lost time
Martin was determined to make up for lost time. “Due to my excellent academic performance, I was able to make up for the lost year in middle school when I was promoted from standard 5 to standard 7, skipping standard 6,” he says.
After completing his matric, he volunteered as a tutor at Gabobidiwe High School in Buxton, teaching maths, physical science and biology to the school’s first matric class.
The school went on to record a 100% pass rate in the three subjects he tutored.This talent for teaching saw Martin enrol at the then University of Bophuthatswana, for a BSc in education, majoring in physics and chemistry. After obtaining this in 1997, he completed a BScHons in physics the following year.
Taking his mentor’s advice to heart
Martin was all set to put his plans to study for a master’s degree on hold while he took up a teaching post in Senzile High School in Hertzogville. Then he had a conversation with his mentor, Professor Dan Kgwadi, now NWU vice-chancellor. After that conversation, he declined the teaching post and instead completed his MSc in physics in 2000.
That same year, Martin joined the QwaQwa campus of the then University of the North, now University of Limpopo, as a lecturer. He then moved to the University of the Free State to do his PhD and lecture.
Next, Martin went to the universities of Florida and Pennsylvania in the USA as a research fellow, doing research for his PhD project in nanoscience.On returning to South Africa, he joined the University of the Free State, obtaining his PhD in 2006. Martin then moved up from senior lecturer to associate professor and, in 2012, to full professor.
He is currently a professor at the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Physics.
What gives him the most satisfaction – apart from time spent with his wife Molly and 13-year-old Tlotlang – is teaching undergraduate students and supervising postgraduate students. It is here that he feels he has the most impact, shaping the minds of future scientists in nanotechnology and related science fields.
It is not only his intelligence and ability to inspire others to dream beyond the borders of their upbringing that make him stand out, but also his determination to be exceptional each and every day.
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