How Charles Maphanga persevered against all odds to become a scientist with South Africa's CSIR

Growing up in the South African village of Ga-Mampuru village in Limpopo has its disadvantages especially if you aspire to be a scientist. One of those disadvantages is a lack of resources.

Added to a lack of resources is that as a young person, one is likely to be surrounded by poverty, substance abuse, and a high number of child-headed families.

Charles Maphanga
Charles Maphanga at work at South Africa's CSIR.

β€œFrom the age of 14, my mother was a domestic worker. Although she was not afforded the opportunity to receive a formal education, she knew the importance of education and so, I grew up valuing education because I understood the importance it would play in emancipating me from an environment that I felt was not progressive. I had a deep desire to do better and be better and this was coupled with my observant, inquisitive nature,” explained Charles Maphanga, a young science researcher at South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Maphanga, who is now 31 years old, did not allow the lack of resources and the conditions in Ga-Mampuru village to stop him from dreaming to become a scientist. Maphanga was the first in his family to go to university and graduated cum laude with a Masters (MSc) in physics from the University of South Africa.

β€œI believe I was a dreamer too. Quite often, I would draw houses and cars, and even write letters to myself explaining who I am and the kind of life I would love to live when I grew up. I had always visualized myself as a leader or being a part of something important that would positively impact lives,” said Maphanga.

While doing his MSc, Maphanga focused his research on the use of laser technology as an alternative technique for administering medicines into the human body in a targeted manner other than using the conventional enteral and parenteral routes of drug administration.

He joined the Biophotonics group at the CSIR under the National Laser Centre (NLC) unit in 2015. In the two years that he has been there, he has participated by contributing presentations locally and internationally, leading to the publication of four peer-reviewed conference proceedings. Maphanga currently has one accepted peer-reviewed journal publication and has submitted another for internal review. He has also successfully attracted international funding from the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE).

β€œIt was extremely taxing physically and emotionally. I recall how it also affected my academics but, I drew strength from knowing that I need money to sustain myself and assist back home,” said Maphanga

Maphanga is looking to also establish an organization that will assist young people between grade 9-12 mainly from rural areas, to understand and realizes the full potential of doing maths and science. His vision is to establish low-cost laboratories in the rural areas. As if that is not enough work to fill his schedule, he is considering to pursue a Ph.D. in physics as well.

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