SU engineering pioneer’s great-grandchildren receive their doctorates together

​By Engela Duvenage

Two great-granddaughters of one of Stellenbosch University’s pioneers received their doctoral degrees together during the institution’s April graduation ceremonies. They are oenologist Dr Jeanne Brand and clinical psychologist Dr Derine Louw. Their great-grandfather, Professor JM (Jimmy) le Roux, was one of the two founding members of the SU Faculty of Engineering in the 1940s.

As luck would have it, the ceremonies during which doctoral degrees were presented to students in the SU Faculty of AgriSciences and the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences were held together this week. It meant that there could be one big family celebration.

For her PhD in wine biotechnology Dr Brand studied the best ways to use to compile a rapid sensory profile about wines. Dr Louw received a PhD in Psychiatry for a study on the treatment of people suffering from trichotillomania or hair pulling disorder.

The cousins continue a proud academic family history associated with the University and are the first of Le Roux’s great-grandchildren to obtain doctorates.

Prof Le Roux was a resident of Dagbreek men’s residence and studied at SU between 1922 and 1926. He obtained his own doctorate at the age of 28. He was the principal of Franschhoek High School before being appointed in 1940 to help Professor Harry Reitz set up a new degree in engineering at SU.

Prof Le Roux later also established the Department of Applied Mathematics at SU. A bronze plaque in the General Engineering building acknowledges his contribution. His son-in-law and Brand and Louw’s grandfather, Prof Jacobus Marius Louw, later lectured in civil engineering.

Wine profiling

Dr Brand’s doctorate in wine biotechnology is a natural extension of her day-to-day work. She has been part of the SU Department of Viticulture and Oenology since August 2011 and manages the Sensory Laboratory. This is where panels of wine tasters come together to taste, evaluate and describe specific wines that are part of the Department’s training and research projects.

“In the food and beverage industry, there is a growing demand for cost-effective profiling methods with which one can quickly set up a sensory profile on how a product such as wine or food smells, tastes and looks,” she explains.

She says because of its complexity, wine is not so easy to describe. Dr Brandt compared four rapid methods that sensory panels commonly use to test and describe wines. She compared each in terms of its cost-effectiveness and usefulness to the wine industry and for research purposes.

“It’s important to choose the right wine profiling method, based on the experiment you want to do,” she believes. “One must also weigh up each method’s practical limitations.”

Her findings highlighted two methods that in particular allow tasting panels to best distinguish between products: the CATA method and sorting.

With CATA (which stands for “check-all-that-apply”) a list of attributes is provided to people who are the judges on sensory tasting panels. They must then make their choices accordingly. With sorting, all the products are given to a tasting panel. They then sort them according to the differences and similarities between the products in terms of sensory properties such as taste and aroma.

Dr Brand’s research was conducted under the supervision of Dr Hélène Nieuwoudt of the SU Department of Viticulture and Oenology, Prof Tormod Næs of the University of Nofima in Norway, and Prof Dominique Valentin of the University of Burgundy in France.

Dr Brand, who has a background in chemistry and wine biotechnology, completed all of her undergraduate and postgraduate studies at Stellenbosch University. She lives between Stellenbosch and Paarl. She grew up in Stellenbosch and the Southern Free State, and matriculated from Hopetown High in the Northern Cape in 1998.

Treating hair-pulling disorder

Dr Louw has been working at Stikland Hospital in Cape Town since 2010 as a senior clinical psychologist. She is also a lecturer at Stellenbosch University and often trains prospective psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, medical students and those studying dietetics.

For her doctoral degree in psychiatry, she focused on the treatment of a condition called trichotillomania or hair pulling disorder. People who suffer from it are constantly pulling on their hair. Their hair thins considerably, and some people even develop bald spots on their scalp.

“The visible consequences of this causes further stress among patients,” explains Dr Louw, who says that trichotillomania is not an easy condition to treat.

She showed that an existing cognitive training programme that is successfully used for other conditions can also be used to the benefit of trichotillomania patients. Sixteen patients followed the programme over the course of five weeks and 25 sessions. It strengthened their working memory, and the brain paths that come into play when controlling the urge to pull out their hair.

“The treatment paid off, even three months after the sessions were completed,” says Dr Louw. “Because so many sessions are needed, it is, however, a fairly expensive form of treatment. It can be done online, which on the positive side means that people do not have to travel to and from therapy sessions, and can also follow the programme after hours.”

Her supervisors were Prof Christine Lochner of the US Department of Psychiatry and Prof Dan Stein of the University of Cape Town’s Psychiatry Department. Both are attached to a unit of the Medical Research Council’s Unit for Risk and Resilience in Mental Health.

Dr Louw, who lives in Durbanville, matriculated from Sentraal High School in Bloemfontein in 2000 and then obtained her undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications at Stellenbosch University, UNISA and the University of the Free State. This includes qualifications in play therapy and clinical psychology.

Photo caption: Dr Derine Louw (with blond hair) and Dr Jeanne Brand are the first great-grandchildren of a pioneer of Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Engineering to receive their doctorates.

Photo credit:Anton Jordaan (SCFS).