Dr Lerato Raganya has taken what some would consider a less travelled path by pursuing one of the fascinating branches of science: materials science and technology. The senior researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Council (CSIR)’s current research focuses on what she refers as the development of beta-type titanium alloys with low elastic modulus and good biocompatibility as alternatives for the conventional metallic biomaterials such as 316L stainless steel and cobalt-chromium alloys for orthopaedic applications.
Dr Raganya says this will contribute to the knowledge of researchers on the engineering of the next generation of titanium alloys for orthopaedic applications. “The success of my research will transform the lives of human beings such as, for example, the elderly and those whose bones have been broken during sports, over-exercising, accidents etc. by improving their quality of life and longevity. Additionally, South Africa will be the country leading in the research on the engineering of biomedical materials, which will have a positive impact on its economy,” she adds.
Releasing toxic elements
Dr Raganya says challenges experienced during the implantation of the conventional biomaterials in the human body are the stress shielding effect caused by the imbalance in elastic moduli of the material and bone.
This includes the release of toxic elements which can cause long-term health problems, including Alzheimer’s disease, neuropathy and osteomalacia. What is interesting about her work, says Dr Raganya, is that it requires a lot of analytical thinking, problem-solving, determination, leadership skills, teamwork, flexibility, and hard work collectively, which is my strength.
Proving them wrong
Dr Raganya says she settled for engineering metallurgy after doing an informal personal research by going through a handful of course prospectuses of different institutions when she was in Grade 12 in 2004. She picked the brains of a few people around to understand what the course entails. Although it was generally described as a course that is designed for men, she enrolled for it regardless just to prove them wrong and it paid off. Today she boasts a string of qualifications under her belt: BTech degree from the University of Johannesburg (UJ); an MSc in Materials Science and Technology from the University of Freiberg, and a PhD from UJ.
Rewarding financial support
Because of her hard work she was awarded financial support from some prestigious funding bodies including:
- the NRF Honours bursary
- CSIR Master’s studentship
- Master’s scholarship by the Department of Science and Innovation (DST then), and
- NRF Thuthuka funding.
The funding gave her piece of mind and enabled her to focus on her studies “which significantly contributed to my appointment as a researcher at the CSIR and a promotion to senior level a year later”, reflects Dr Raganya.
Encouraging young girls
Dr Raganya says her wish is to see a lot ofwomen excelling in the STEM fields. This is why she visits high schools in her rural area (disadvantaged schools) to provide them with awareness of STEM career opportunities and to promote gender equality across all areas.
“I am an ambassador of the Women in Engineering organisation where our aim is to raise awareness amongst young girls and women about career opportunities in the science, engineering and technology fields,” says Dr Raganya.
In addition, she says, we carry out our activities through physical engagements, virtual meetings or social media. My fellow ambassadors have shared very inspirational talks or motivations which continue to grow my knowledge and strengthen my faith in science, engineering, and technology.