Professor Patricia Berjak, a world renowned scientist who achieved significant breakthroughs in the understanding of recalcitrant seeds, has died after a short illness.
She was 75-years-old.
Berjak a Professor Emeritus and senior research associate of the University of KwaZulu-Natal held various academic titles during her illustrious career spanning 48 years including head of department and was one of South Africa’s few A-rated scientists.
Berjak, who died last Wednesday, has been cremated.
She began her career in academia in 1966 when she joined the then University of Natal’s Plant Biology Department as a junior lecturer.
She was passionate about seeds and conservation and achieved a number of highly significant breakthroughs in the understanding of recalcitrant seeds – seeds that lack the ability to survive for sufficiently long periods in storage, thus undermining food security in the developing world.
The University of KwaZulu-Natal said it was her personal drive, unrivalled work ethic and desire to make a difference that established her research group as one of the most respected in the field of recalcitrant seed biology world-wide.
Berjak’s innovative research has been highly recognised globally and her numerous accolades include being elected a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa, a fellow of the University of Natal, the Royal Society of South Africa and the Third World Academy of Sciences. She was also nominated, unopposed, as president-elect of the International Society for Seed Science and continued to serve the society over the last few years.
Between 2006 and 2014 she went on to reach even greater heights, receiving the Order of Mapungubwe (silver), the highest honour granted by the president of South Africa.
She held a National Research Foundation (NRF) A rating, signifying world leadership in her field, and received the NRF President’s Award for Lifetime Achievement.
As a Professor Emeritus, she continued to lecture and actively supervise post-graduate students in the School of Life Sciences at UKZN, up until October, 2014.
Berjak always asserted that her achievements resulted from the contributions of many scientists, especially her husband, Professor Norman Pammenter.
Amidst all her scientific exploits, she pursued many other passions: the English language, classic cars, aerobatics, ballroom dancing, photography, detective novels, cooking, an unstinting devotion to all things feline and, most of all, Norman’s companionship.
Lesiba Seshoka, UKZN spokesman said: “Professor Berjak’s considerable scientific prowess, pursuit of excellence and generosity of spirit leave an indelible and inspirational mark on this university and the international botanical landscape”.
The university will hold a memorial service for her at a date yet to be confirmed.