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Professor Underhill
top award
Emeritus Professor Les Underhill has been
awarded the prestigious Harry Oppenheimer
Fellowship Award for 2011. The award encourages
and acknowledges excellence in scholarship in
all its forms and is regarded as the top award for
research on the African continent.
The honour comes with some special memories
for Professor Underhill, who was capped by
Mr Oppenheimer when he graduated with his PhD in
mathematical statistics in 1973.
Having moved from his roots in mathematical statistics
into a new discipline known as statistical ecology,
ProfessorUnderhill isnowdirector ofUCT’s internationally
acclaimed Animal Demography Unit (ADU).
collaboration with, and visits to, internationally recognised
institutions. Successful candidates may spend two to
ten months at an approved institution. In 2011, UCT
supported 18 master’s and doctoral students to travel to
the institutions indicated on page 24. The total value of
these awards was R1,107,800. They are made possible
by bequests, and funds to support them are sourced from
income derived from investments.
The UCT International and Refugee Students’
provide support to a number of international
students who have been offered a place to study at
UCT. In 2011, 92 international and 23 refugee students
were awarded scholarships valued at R2,448,090 and
R1,026,740 respectively. These funds were sourced
from internal funds, income from investments, and with
the support of the Sigrid Rausing Trust. Funding for
The monetary side of the Oppenheimer award will
go towards setting up early warning systems for
biodiversity in South Africa and to contribute towards
the development of a toolkit for biodiversity monitoring.
Through his work, Professor Underhill has also
made the ADU a sought-after destination for young
“His inter-disciplinary approach and huge enthusiasm
for his work has enabled him to attract a very large
number of highly talented master’s and PhD students,”
noted Professor Danie Visser, Deputy Vice-Chancellor
responsible for research. “This makes him one of the
heroes in our quest to produce the next generation
of scientists.”
Professor Underhill (right), seen here with Professor Wieland Gevers (centre) and PhD student Alecia Nickless, who
represented the ADU at the awards ceremony. Ms Nickless, a statistician, is working on carbon flux modelling, which
aims to investigate what is happening to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.