Profile of Thelma Ngwenya

About Thelma Ngwenya

Thelma Ngwenya ,PhD, is an engineer at Mintek in the Advanced Materials Division. She obtained both her undergraduate (BSc in Chemical Engineering) and postgraduate qualifications at the University of the Witwatersrand. Dr Ngwenya’s PhD research was on gold catalysis for clean air technologies.

Dr Thelma Ngwenya

What led you to this profession?

I have always had a love for the science, particularly chemistry. The art of mixing chemicals in a chemical reaction that yields different materials fascinated me. I decided to combine the chemistry with my need to solve problems and became an engineer.

Did you always intend to be a scientist, if not, what was your dream career?

I would have loved to be in the performance arts, I didn’t give up on that so I do that as a hobby to balance logic with personal expressive creativity.

At present, what are you working on?

I am part of the HySA Catalysis team in Mintek that is working on the development of fuel cell catalysts. My project is focussed on the development of non-carbon supports for the platinum catalyst and investigating different platinum nano alloys that can be used instead of pure platinum as a fuel cell catalyst.

What is your opinion on female representation in the hydrogen and fuel cell technology industry?

There is a slow growing number of women in the industry over the past few years.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far in your journey as a scientist and how did you overcome it?

My biggest challenge so far has been finding a good mentor to help navigate the out-of-university career life who also understands the challenges faced by being a female engineer.

Which undergraduate degree should someone enrol in, in order to become a specialist in your field?

Chemical Engineering, Chemistry or Metallurgy

Share a turning point or defining moment in your work as a scientist.

Obtaining my PhD, I got to understand what is required in planning a research project that is geared towards solving everyday problems. In my case it was using nano gold particles to clean exhaust air from burning coal as this caused health and environmental issues.

What is your advice to young, aspiring female scientists and students?

If you have a true passion for science make sure you set a goal, study smart and stay focussed to achieve that goal. Make sure you use your education to acquire a skill that can used to benefit you and your community.

What is your next move, career wise and what are you most looking forward to?

I am currently fully focussed on my fuel cell research; however I am looking forward to starting and being part of bigger upcoming projects.