Professor Mike Wingfield, founding Director of FABI and Advisor to the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Executive received the prestigious Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship Award for 2021 at a ceremony held on 12 July, 2022 at the Brenthurst Library. This, the flagship award by the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, recognizes scholarship of the highest calibre across various academic and research disciplines and was presented to Prof. Wingfield by Mr Jonathan Oppenheimer, Executive Chairman of Oppenheimer Generations. This also marks the first time the award has been awarded to two researchers in the same family; Prof. Brenda Wingfield was the recipient in 2015.

An elated Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UP, said that he was thrilled that an academic from the University of Pretoria has again received this award. This showcases the strong focus that UP places on research excellence and postgraduate education. “We are a future-focused university that is strong on transdisciplinary research. Conducting research that makes an impact underpins the University’s strategy. As one of UP’s exceptional researchers, Prof. Wingfield is well placed to use this prestigious award to promote research excellence and to mentor young scientists internationally”.

Mike’s winning project focusses broadly on fungi occurring in their natural environment and particularly those of relevance to human health. In his acceptance speech, he referred to the fact that we know much too little about the microbial world around us and how this poses a threat to human well-being. He made the point that “this is exemplified by SARS CoVi-2 and the recent CoViD-19 pandemic”.  His research will focus particularly on fungi of medical relevance and for which little ecological knowledge is available. Mike hopes to discover more about where they live naturally, to better understand them, and to avoid diseases with which they are associated.

The Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship Awards were initiated in 2001 to commemorate the Trust’s founder and all he stood for, especially his efforts to support human and intellectual development, advance scholarship and encourage innovative ideas. The Trust has a long tradition of investing in education and many beneficiaries have gone on to make important contributions to South African public life. The Fellowships build on this tradition and rank as the Trust’s premier annual awards. These are special investments to encourage excellence in scholarship in all disciplines and in all its forms and serve to acknowledge cutting-edge, internationally significant work that has particular application to the advancement of knowledge, teaching, research and development in South Africa.