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Master baker is now a master chemist too

Pamela Joseph, master of chemistry and a champion baker
Pamela Joseph, master of chemistry and a champion baker

Independent Media Home Chef Supreme Cookie Competition winner Pamela Joseph is now a master chemist too, having graduated with a Master of Science degree in Organic Chemistry from UKZN.

After completing her matric at the P.R. Pather Secondary School in Merebank, Joseph worked as an outsourced labourer for a year. In spite of being faced with the hardships of working long hours for a minimum wage, she never stopped believing in the power of education.

"With guidance from God and the help of my job, family and friends, I was able to save enough money to study teaching at UNISA," said Joseph.

However, her passion for chemistry was awakened when she was accepted to study a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Chemistry at UKZN.

Joseph successfully completed her undergraduate degree and pursued her honours in chemistry, where her curiosity grew about how the active ingredients of commercial drugs are synthesised and everything that goes into making the compounds.

"I wanted to learn more to enable me to apply this knowledge in the area of developing new drugs that could potentially save lives," said Joseph. She subsequently enrolled for an MSc in Organic Chemistry under the supervision of Professor Neil Koorbanally.

Joseph’s research examined the synthesis of a class of heterocyclic compounds known as benzimidazoles, which were combined with short-chained groups and screened against drug resistant bacteria in the hope of developing new antibiotic agents.

Joseph’s research discovered that some of the synthesised compounds were almost just as active as the currently used antibiotics. If further tested for their cytotoxicity, these compounds had the potential to be developed into antibiotics.

"Pamela’s tenacity and attitude towards her studies are qualities that will hold her in good stead throughout her career," said Koorbanally. "I have watched her grow into a fine chemist over the years. She has done well in her degree and produced work that she can be proud of."

While studying for her master’s degree, Joseph worked as a chemistry demonstrator and tutor for undergraduate students. At weekends, she also worked as a transport co-ordinator for the Airport Bus Transport company operating out of Durban’s King Shaka International Airport.

Joseph described her studies as frustrating, intense and challenging, but also rewarding. "There were times when I wondered if all the frustration was worth it, but with the strength of God, I never gave up. I have learned a lot from all the adversities and believe that it made me a stronger and better chemist," she said.

Besides chemistry, Joseph has a passion for baking. She recently entered and won the Independent Media Home Chef Supreme Cookie Competition. "I love experimenting and making up my own combinations in the kitchen, and I am now focusing on sugar-free recipes," she said. Joseph runs a small business called ChemiCakes, selling baked goods and specialising in sugar-free desserts.

From a family with a history of diabetes, a disease that led to the death of her father, Joseph was motivated to work on her passion for baking and developing a range of sugar-free treats.

"My immediate goal is to secure a permanent position as a research and development chemist in industry, and a future goal is to open my own shop selling baked goods, especially diabetic friendly products," said Joseph.

Joseph lives by the following words: "You can do anything you set your mind to, no matter how impossible it may seem. Nothing great is achieved without hard work.

"I am among those who believe that science has great beauty," she added.

Words: Leena Rajpal [email protected].

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