Pope Francis and Rhodes University’s Institute for Nanotechnology Innovation Director,Tebello Nyokong

I’d never heard of the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences before this July 10, 2023 Rhodes University (South Africa) press release,

Rhodes University’s Institute for Nanotechnology Innovation Director, Distinguished Professor Tebello Nyokong, has been appointed to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. As the head of the Catholic Church, the bishop of Rome and sovereign of the Vatican City State, Pope Francis appointed Professor Nyokong to the Academy.  

The Academy was founded in 1603 after a period of vicissitudes and was radically reformed by Pope Pius XI in 1936. The aim of the Academy is to promote the progress of mathematical, physical, and natural sciences and the study of epistemological problems relating thereto. The Academy chooses candidates for a seat in the Academy based on their eminent original scientific studies and their acknowledged moral personality, without any ethnic or religious discrimination. They are nominated for life by the sovereign act of the Pope.

Professor Nyokong said that when she first received the communiqué from the Pope, she deleted the correspondence, thinking it was spam. “Who receives an email from the Pope? I am not even catholic, so this came as a surprise for me,” she said. Only after receiving a call enquiring whether she had received the correspondence did she realise it was legit.

“It’s a great honour indeed. I will be travelling to the Vatican in 2024. How does the Pope even know me? I do not even know, but it means there is something holy about the work my students and I are doing,” said Professor Nyokong.

Pontifical Academy of Sciences Chancellor, Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, said: “Pope Francis will bestow on Professor Nyokong the insignia of her appointment during a Solemn Pontifical Audience at the next Plenary Session in October 2024.”

Professor Nyokong is researching a new cancer diagnosis and treatment methodology called photo-dynamic therapy, which is an alternative to chemotherapy. The new therapy is based on using a dye, which is used to colour blue denim clothing, and which is inert and harmless by itself but can be activated by exposure to a red laser beam. 

She is celebrated worldwide for the outstanding work she and her team continue to do. She has five honorary degrees including from her alma mater McMaster University in Ontario, Canada; University of South Africa (UNISA); Walter Sisulu University; the University of KwaZulu-Natal and another alma materWestern University in Ontario, Canada.

Professor Nyokong is an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and a  Fellow of the Royal Society. Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor congratulated Professor Nyokong. “We are incredibly proud of Distinguished Professor Nyokong, and we congratulate her on this huge recognition. This recognition is fitting for someone of Professor Nyokong’s calibre. Her many years of ground-breaking intellectual contribution, hard work, dedication, and commitment to this research-intensive University do not go unnoticed. She has and continues to contribute to our vision of being foremost in the generation and advancement of locally-responsive and globally-engaged knowledge dedicated to creating a just and sustainable world,” concluded Professor Mabizela [Dr Sizwe Mabizela].

Congratulations to Professor Tebello Nyokong!

You can find the Pontifical Academy of Sciences here. In addition to learning about a new ‘science’ agency and finding out the Catholic Church is aware of nanotechnology, I received another surprise on reading the Rhodes University press release in its entirety: Professor Nyokong has two Canadian connections (or alma maters).

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