PROFILE: Chemistry student uses AI in water treatment plants

Young prodigious scientist’s unwavering determination makes her strike gold.

Master of science student Taskeen Hasrod wowed judges during the Wits’ leg of the FameLab international science competition and scooped the first-place position.

Wits hosted the FameLab competition on May 10, 2023. FameLab is the biggest science competition that takes place annually around the world, it is designed to challenge science researchers and foster their communication skills in front of a panel of judges and an audience in just three minutes.

Hasrod grew up in Lenasia and has always been interested in maths and science from a young age. The young scientist’s interest grew exponentially by the time she reached high school. Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela Hasrod said, “I really like chemistry, learning the fundamentals, how really small things give really big effects.”

Taskeen’s mother, Nasreen Hasrod, says her daughter has always been drawn to chemistry, “our kitchen has witnessed many scientific experiments” throughout her childhood. She added that Taskeen still has her first kiddie’s laboratory equipment set.

The 23-year-old is currently pursuing her master’s degree in chemistry at the Wits school of chemistry. Her research focuses on applying artificial intelligence (AI) to environmental chemistry particularly in water management. Using AI, Hasrod predicts water quality in acid mine drainage treatment plants.

“Instead of doing the experiments to test the water for values we need, we would use historical data to train the models to predict it without having to do experiments,” said Hasrod. She added that the usage of AI has proven to be more efficient and cost-effective.

It was this research, coupled with her charisma, that made a lasting impact on the judges which got her the first-place finish. Hasrod was able to present clearly what her research is about in a simple way without using too much scientific jargon. The competition equips participants with communication skills and provides a platform for networking as it is centred around interacting with both participants and the judges. It also provides training exercises to its participants.

Professor Hlanganani Tutu, who is her research supervisor, says Hasrod has “a commendable sense of purpose in her research”. Tutu added that Hasrod is “dedicated and focused as a student.” Which has made the supervising experience enjoyable, he added.

Tutu, said Hasrod’s “research findings will have far reaching impacts in dealing with big data from water treatment plants and as well as how the treatment process will be improved.”

FEATURED IMAGE: The outside of the chemistry building with the periodic table on the windows. Photo: Sbongile Molambo.


Chemistry ceremony celebrates top Witsies

Top achievers in the Wits chemistry school were honoured and celebrated at an awards ceremony on Thursday. The ceremony, held annually, hopes to raise awareness of chemistry as a possible career path.

“I want to make students realise that chemistry is a viable career… Many students enrol for chemistry because it’s a prerequisite for another subject but they know nothing about chemistry and so they wouldn’t even consider it as a career, said ” Gaby Meirim, a chemistry tutor.

Meirim said currently there are 116 3rd year students enrolled in the third year course. She also said that there are 112 students currently enrolled in the postgraduate programme and great numbr of them are from other universities. “By doing this we are giving them an opportunity to actually mix with our researchers… We really expose them to chemistry and career opportunities we have to offer.”

One of the winners, Pheeha Joseph Moeta, 3rd year BSc Chem said: “It’s [winning] incredible because I’ve been putting in a lot of my time into my studies. I have also established a study style that works for me so I am happy.”

Kirsten Youlton, 2nd year BSc Chem said: “It was so unexpected, I didn’t see it coming at all so it was awesome. I’ve put in a lot of weekends for this course but I enjoy chemistry so it doesn’t feel that frustrating.”

Together with Rena Joao, 1st BSc, Youlton and Moeta achieved a semester mark of 74% and above. All three received a R1000 book voucher  as well as the opportunity to join the First Year Research Assistantship Programme.

Dr Nosipho Moloto, lecturer in the department said that while chemistry is not the most popular course among students, it is a “central science”.

“It’s an important science and I try to encourage my students that if they are unsure of the career path they want to take in science, its best to stay in chemistry because it has many opportunities. Because it’s central, you can do whatever you want with it.”