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 Celebrating SA’s phenomenal women  
Alison Lewis - Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment at the University of Cape Town


Alison Emslie Lewis is Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment at the University of Cape Town (UCT) – the first woman at the university to receive such as appointment.

Alison graduated with a BSc (Chemical Engineering), MSc (Chemical Engineering and a PhD, all from UCT. She is a Professional Engineer, registered by the Engineering Council of South Africa. She is also a Fellow of the British Institute of Chemical Engineers (FIChemE), the South African Institute of Chemical Engineers, the South African Academy of Engineering, the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy and UCT’s College of Fellows. In addition, Alison is a Member of the Academy of Science of South Africa.

A publisher of more than 120 international journal and conference papers, Alison has an international research reputation. She has also been recognised locally for her achievements. She has a string of awards to her name, including the National Research Foundation President’s “Champion of Transformation in Research” Award in 2012 for her active involvement in training, fostering and mentoring black and female students. In the same year she also won “Distinguished Woman Scientist” award from the Ministry of Science and Technology for her outstanding contribution to building South Africa’s scientific and research knowledge base.

Alison takes capacity building in the sector very seriously. She has supervised 37 Masters and PhD students to graduation, published more than 120 international journal and conference papers and has established an international research reputation.

Says Vice-Chancellor at UCT, Dr Max Price, about Alison: “Known for her ingenuity and innovative approach, Prof Lewis has facilitated projects such as the new curriculum project and the Assistant Lecturer programme, which enables postgraduate students to develop teaching skills which could make them potentially employable in academic positions one they have completed their studies. She has also championed transformation initiatives by establishing four new academic posts in the department, three of which have been filled by black South Africans.”

Her unit is involved in research and development that leads to cleaner products made by cleaner processes. Specificially they are involved in precipitation and crystallisation research, mainly connected to the mineral processing industry.

“I have always had an interest in both environmental and water issues, which is why I pursued water treatment subjects in my postgraduate degrees,” notes Alison. “However, when I started the research unit, I was told that it would be difficult to get funding for research in water and was advised to undertake research on the actual processes involved.”

As a result, Alison got involved in research in platinum and rhodium precipitation and crystallisation, but always kept an interest in water treatment alive, mostly through projects related to the treatment of acid mine drainage. The topic of water treatment has been a constant theme through the research that she has been involved in. Since 2001, she has raised R52-million in research funding.

In 2007, she and her team started their work in eutectic freeze crystallisation, which is a novel technology for treating acid mine drainage and hyper-saline brines. “That has been a very exciting innovation in water research in our laboratory,” she says.

Concludes Alison: “I think there are huge challenges in the water sector. What is interesting is that chemical engineering used to draw a lot of students who were out to get a professional degree and make a good living. Now there is a new a group of students who are committed to using their degrees to solve the pressing global challenges of the day – and one of these is water. There are opportunities and a huge potential for students, graduates and engineers to start getting involved in solving water problems.”

Download a free copy of our special publication entitled “Amakhosazana Amanzi”, WRC Report No. SP 89/15.

Prof Alison Lewis , University of Cape Town
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