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The Physical Chemist


Zikhona Tywabi-Ngeva, PhD, is a lecturer and researcher in physical chemistry and material science in the Department of Chemistry at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

What or who inspired your spark for science?

Believe it or not, chemistry kind of chose me. In high school, I studied maths, physics, accounting and biology. Initially, the plan was to study medicine at University of KwaZulu Natal, but as I was waiting to find out if I had a place, I started to panic. I then went to enquire about spaces on any medical-related courses, and someone told me about the National Diploma Analytical Chemistry course. Without hesitation, I rushed there and registered. The plan was to do it for a year then transfer back to medicine… but God had other plans.


I simply fell in love with chemistry, the experiments, and the fact that it’s a base for lots of innovation in scientific, medicinal and material-oriented fields. I was subsequently offered a bursary by CHIETA (Chemical Industries Education & Training Authority) and the rest as they say, is history.

Oh I have to add that my primary school teacher, Mr Nkila, who taught us mathematics in grade 6 and 7, inspired me a lot.


For you, what’s most enjoyable about being a scientist?


It has to be the whole process of figuring things out; I also feel as if I’m constantly learning new things and there is a definite thrill to discovery.


As an academic lecturer, I get to collaborate with others both nationally and internationally. This is a lot of fun for me because I learn from other scientists and they also get to learn from me. It’s also very rewarding to communicate about science to the broader world through social media.


When you’re not supervising students and making new discoveries you are…


… Passionate about access to higher education and working with the youth especially from the rural areas. I myself was born and bred in a rural village. I run an NPC (non-profit company), Dr ZTN Foundation, and my aim is to empower, nurture and develop young people in theEastern Cape and equip them with life skills, tangible skills for career development, career guidance and mentorship so that those who want to can make an impact in their communities in the Eastern Cape around South Africa. The foundation also supports recent graduates through the ‘Fitted For Work Clothing Drive’. We collect professional clothes from friends, colleagues and local businesses to give to graduates from underprivileged backgrounds who are interviewing or starting new jobs.


Zikhona Tywabi-Ngeva has a Masters in Analytical Chemistry and a PhD in Physical Chemistry both from Durban University of Technology in South Africa. She has been a lecturer and researcher in physical chemistry for 2 years.


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