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Prestigious NSTF award for young fire research team

Prof Richard Walls, Head of the Fire Engineering Research Unit at Stellenbosch University, was announced joint winner in the TW Kambule-NSTF Awards Category: Emerging Researcher in the 2019/2020 NSTF-South32 Awards during an online ceremony on 30 July 2020. There were 20 nominees in this Category.

Regarded as the most sought-after national accolades of their kind in the country, the National Science and Technology Forum-South32 Awards recognise, celebrate and reward the outstanding contributions of individuals, teams and organisations to science, engineering and technology (SET) in the country. Among the competitors (in 13 categories) were experienced scientists, engineers, innovators, science communicators, engineering capacity builders, organisational managers and leaders, as well as data and research managers. According to the organisers, it is an extraordinary honour to be a finalist given the quality of the nominations received every year, the fierce competition that nominees face and growing interest from the SET community over the years.

In the four years since receiving his doctorate, Prof Walls has established the Fire Engineering Research Unit at Stellenbosch University (FireSUN), a dynamic group doing research notably focused on both informal settlement fire safety as well as structural fire design – both crucial to ensuring fire safety in our communities. He works closely with local fire services to develop solutions for informal settlement fire problems, and was involved in a large scale analysis of the 2017 Knysna Fire disaster. Furthermore, using seed funding from the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, FireSUN recently launched a dedicated postgraduate degree programme in fire safety engineering.

Prof Walls says: “Not only do we get paid a salary to burn stuff down, now our team is being recognised for advancing science and engineering. Our PhD and MEng students, postdocs and undergrads have worked extremely hard, and we hope we are making an impact. I appreciate that all of their contributions are being recognised in this award.”

Main photograph: Prof Richard Walls.

Insert: Prof Richard Walls with his Award.