“I am ever grateful to the Almighty God for giving me strength, to my supervisors (Professor Paul Musonge and Prof Babatunde F Bakare) for the support and guidance as well as to my family for their encouragement and support until the end of my Master’s degree research work. It has been a long and difficult road, but I am so joyful that I persevered to the end,” said Sthembile Mzimela exultantly.
The bubbly Mzimela graduated Cum Laude and the Dean’s Merit Award with her Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering at the 2022 Durban University of Technology (DUT) Spring Graduation. The prestigious ceremony was held at the Durban Exhibition Centre on Thursday, 29 September 2022.
She was born on the 18th of July (Mandela Day) in Durban. She grew up most of her childhood life in Secunda, Mpumalanga. In 2006 her family moved to Durban, and she completed her high school at Impact Christian Academy.
In 2017, she decided to pursue the current Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering at the DUT.
“My journey with DUT has been challenging requiring a high level of discipline on my part in ensuring a health balance between my studies and other work that I was involved with. I thank God that the hard work has at the end resulted in my successful completion of my research work. I have gained extensive research and project management experience,” she said.
Mzimela expressed that it had been amazing to look back and realize how much she had grown as a person as a result of having participated in the Master’s degree academic research journey at DUT.
The topic of her dissertation focused on: The Biosorption of Chromium and Copper from AMD Contaminated Water Using Banana Peels as a Biomass Adsorbent.
She explained one of South Africa’s greatest resource is water and as a country it is facing water scarcity challenges.
“Not only do we not get enough rainfall, but we also face challenges from water contamination containing heavy metals by industrial activities that pollute and further reduce available water for drinking and other domestic uses. The study was based on using the abundant agricultural wastes such as banana peels to reduce the content of heavy metals in drinking water,” she said.
Mzimela elaborated that she chose this study because of the environmental impact it brings to the field of science and engineering.
“Many chemical processes employed in various businesses today are synonymous with degrading the earth’s environment through air, water, and land pollution. The use of agricultural waste to address this environmental challenge provides an engineering solution that uses the natural by-product to address the environmental challenges to achieve greater results,” she explained.
Her PHD journey had some challenges which included the actual research work itself in getting related academic information to support her research topic as well as the laboratory tests to confirm and support the feasibility of the processes to remove heavy metals from water in line with the theoretical data collected.
Her second greatest challenge for her was to balance time with all her other activities.
“There were many times where it was necessary to re-do some of the laboratory experiments to experiment with various variations in order to obtain optimal results. At some cases it became necessary to send samples to be analysed at other institutions with laboratory equipment better suited to perform the required analyses and tests. It was extremely difficult to accommodate all the deviations given the tight schedule to complete my Master’s degree study. However, through determination, perseverance and long nights, all things worked out well in the end,” she added,
The recommendation from her thesis is to do further studies in the biosorption process for a continuous operation in a fixed-bed column to mimic industrial plants. “This should include using larger volumes of real water that has been contaminated by industrial activities such as surface and groundwater near industrial areas. Another
recommendation is to look at ways of improving and modifying the agricultural material preparation on an industrial scale in order to be able to handle more than one metal as well as to adsorb a larger quantity of heavy metals onto its surface when applied on an industrial scale,” said Mzimela.
In terms of studying further, she relayed that many of her friends have started with their doctoral work which is inspiring her to study further.
Her advice to future DUT students is to pay attention to the chosen research topic as she found it easier to study something that she likes. “There are great opportunities within the research field where I think there is growth and opportunity for more work to be done. Time management is critical as research needs to be balanced with a number of other activities. Personally, it is a great feeling to have achieved a Master’s degree in Engineering and I believe that it opens more personal growth opportunities,” she commented.
Pictured: Sthembile Mzimela