National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Professor Judith Kinnaird

For directing economic geology research studies on metals for everyday needs now and for the future.

The 2019/2020 NSTF-South32 for Management Award was won by Professor Judith Kinnaird, Associate Professor and Director: Economic Geology Research Unit; and Co-Director: DSI Centre of Excellence for the Study of Mineral and Energy Deposits, School of Geosciences, at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) received this award for directing economic geology research studies on metals for everyday needs now and for the future.

Professor Judith Kinnaird manages the Economic Geology Research Institute at University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and co-directs Cimera, the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and National Research Foundation (NRF) Centre of Excellence. Cimera is an acronym for the Centre for Integrated Mineral and Energy Resource Analysis.

Kinnaird’s work focuses on developing rich connections with industry and generating millions of rands for research. She has supervised numerous projects and teams and explored numerous topics. These range from applying cutting-edge techniques for ore deposit exploration to building societal awareness around resources and the ethical issues regarding sustainable resource extraction.

“My work has helped in the discovery and development of ore deposits that add value to society,” explains Kinnaird. “Lithium for batteries, tin for tin-indium compounds in touch screens, and platinum and palladium for catalytic converters. I’ve also contributed to the training of the next generation of geologists and leaders, especially through the MSc in Economic Geology that I helped to establish at Wits.”

Her work needs to be seen within the context of Wits University’s strategic alignment. The university’s goals include increasing research output and advancing public good through teaching, research, and engagement. All is looking good, with the university doubling its output over five years and producing landmark achievements.

“The Cimera produces world-class research that is relevant to society in general, and the minerals sector in particular,” she says. “Through Cimera I’ve been able to make a difference to the lives and careers of a number of postgraduates. I enjoy guiding students through their research. The stand-out moments of my career are when I see my students graduate with PhDs and MScs and then get high-calibre jobs across the world.”

For Kinnaird, geology has been part of her career DNA since she was eight years old. It inspired her throughout university and has driven her efforts to further education and research in this field. This drive has seen her become the first female president of the 100-year-old Society of Economic Geologists based in Denver, US.

Her projects have involved innovative technological developments that have evolved at pace over the past few years, putting pressure on students and education institutions to keep up. With Kinnaird behind the wheel, numerous projects have taken off at Wits. These include the Tescan Integrated Mineral Analyser (TIMA-X), an automated mineralogy instrument designed for high resolution elemental mapping, and the use of drones to sense data on tin, rare earth and uranium.

Her work involves the rare blend of superb management skills, a deep passion for the topic at hand, and the ability to bring these threads together to weave a tapestry of research, growth, and investment. — Tamsin Oxford

To read the full Mail & Guardian supplement of articles about the work of all the 2020 Award Winners, click here.

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