‘Seeing other students succeed kept me motivated.’ Top graduate Qiniso wins national innovation award

Top-achieving master’s Chemical Engineering graduate Qiniso Ngiba is already making strides in his field. He has recently been named one of the two South African winners of the Blue Sky Young Researchers Innovation Award. This award celebrates young researchers and innovations in the global forest sector, and Qiniso will now compete internationally with 12 other representatives from seven countries.  

Qiniso’s achievement is based on the results obtained from his postgraduate studies at Stellenbosch University (SU), under the supervision of Profs Luvuyo Tyhoda (Wood Science) and Johann Görgens (Chemical Engineering). His research investigated spent pulp liquor for the synthesis of soil conditioning materials to improve soil quality. “When I started, I knew absolutely nothing about the topic,” says Qiniso. “[Now], I feel that everyone should be using lignin to make soil better – I enjoyed it so much!”   

As a Grade 12 learner, Qiniso first learned about the wonderful world of chemical engineering at a science fair. “Seeing that chemical engineering is behind nearly everything around me drew me into this career path.” Qiniso completed his undergraduate degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and joined the Department of Chemical Engineering at SU in 2020 to pursue his master’s. Here, he received the SAPPI SA Award for the Best MEng Student upon graduating in 2022. “The support from the supervisors, laboratory staff, administration staff and fellow students was amazing,” says Qiniso, adding that this especially helped him during the challenging time of studying amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. “It was also a privilege to study lignin ammoxidation under Profs Tyhoda and Görgens, two experts in this field.”   


Quick questions for Qiniso 

What kept you motivated throughout your studies?
Research is challenging and can be isolating. Unlike during undergraduate studies, you must focus on your own topic. Witnessing other students succeed kept me motivated. It gave me hope that one day I would, like them, succeed. I also had the acknowledgements page of my thesis written very early. Editing and re-reading it gave me so much hope during times of difficulty.


What advice do you have for someone who would like to succeed in their chemical engineering studies and beyond?
Chemical engineering is a challenging field. You may feel like a failure sometimes, but you must keep going. Use the support you have, and bear in mind that many have succeeded before you, and many will succeed after you. You are no exception. You can do it.

What are some of the hobbies that you enjoy?
I love jogging and hiking – a hobby I picked up in Stellenbosch!  


The global winners of the Blue Sky Young Researchers Innovation Award will be announced at the end of January. Fingers crossed, Qiniso!