Scientist on quest to heal wounds

2011-08-06 18:02

If Valencia Jacobs’ mother had her way, her daughter would have followed in her late father’s footsteps – he was a teacher.

But the Port Elizabeth-born Jacobs had her eyes set elsewhere.

Today Jacobs (41) is one of four South African women scientists recently awarded a L’Oréal-Unesco regional fellowship.

The award carries a R150 000 prize, to be used towards completion of a PhD degree. It’s open to all women scientists in sub-Saharan Africa up to the age of 40.

The three other South Africans among the 10 overall winners are Kim Trollope, Dalene de Swardt and Jeanne de Waal.

Jacobs, who’s reading for her PhD at the Nelson Mandela ­University, says the award will help her explore her field.

Her research covers the ­production and application of ­nanofibres – ultra-thin ­fibres with at least one dimension – in wound dressing, and she hopes that it will ­help produce ­efficient, low-cost bandages.

“This field keeps me on my toes because there’s always that excitement of discovering something new,” says Jacobs.
“I love what I do.

“I’d advise young people who want to follow any field to first find out if it is something they love ­doing.”

When she was younger, she ­always wanted to know how things worked.

“That’s what made me to choose the science field, even though back then the only scientists we could look up to were doctors,” she says.

After matric her mother suggested she enrol for a teacher’s ­diploma, but instead she enrolled for a BSc degree at the University of Fort Hare in 1992.

Jacobs graduated with a BSc (chemistry and biochemistry) in 1995 and completed her honours degree a year later. In 1999 she notched up a masters degree.

The state-of-the-art microscopes she works with are a far cry from the threadbare laboratories of her high school days in Zwide.

“We didn’t have much at school but I decided I wasn’t going to let my dreams fall apart because of that,” Jacobs says.
“My mother is very proud of what I’ve achieved.”

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