Patience Mthunzi-Kufa

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Patience Mthunzi
2011 portrait - Patience Mthunzi (6197342763) (cropped).jpg
Mthunzi in 2011
Alma materUniversity of St Andrews Rand Afrikaans University
Scientific career
InstitutionsCouncil for Scientific and Industrial Research
ThesisOptical sorting and photo-transfection of mammalian cells
Doctoral advisorKishan Dholakia

Patience Mthunzi-Kufa (born 2 May 1976) is a South African physicist and Head of Biophotonics research at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. She received the Order of Mapungubwe in Bronze.

Early life and education[edit]

Patience Mthunzi-Kufa (Patience Mthunzi) was born on May 2, 1976 in Orlando, Soweto.[1] She attended Reasöma Secondary School and enrolled for bachelor's degree in Psychology.[1] She became interested in biological science, and switched majors, graduating from Rand Afrikaans University in 1999.[2] At the same institution, she completed postgraduate degrees in Biochemistry.[2] She cites her aunt as inspiration: a teacher, and the only member of her family to complete a master's degree.[3]

Mthunzi began to work for the National Laser Centre in the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, where she set up a functional cell-culture facility.[4] Whilst at a conference in San Diego, Mthunzi-Kufa saw a presentation on optical tweezers which made her consider a career in biophotonics. It was not possible to study this in South Africa, so she moved to University of St Andrews, where she was the first South African PhD student in the discipline.[5] She earned her PhD in 2010, "Optical sorting and photo-transfection of mammalian cells".[6] She was a member of the SPIE students chapter in St Andrews.[7]


As lead for biophotonics research at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Mthunzi users high power lasers to characterise and treat disease.[citation needed] She uses lasers to optically manipulate cells at the microscopic scale, including:[2]

  • Embryonic stem cells for tissue engineering[8]
  • Neuroblastoma cells for neurodegenerative studies
  • HIV-1 cells for targeted drug delivery in latent viral sites
  • Cancer cells to study single cell processes

She visited Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology to discuss Biomedical Applications of Lasers in Biophotonics in 2013.[9][10]

In 2015, Mthunzi was appointed a TED Fellow.[11] Her TED talk, Could we cure HIV with lasers?, has been viewed over one million times.[12] She used the opportunity to discuss wish to translate her research from petri dishes to human testing.[13][14] Her talk was well received by the audience in Vancouver and scientists all over the world.[15][16][17]

Mthunzi is concerned about the brain drain of African scientists out of South Africa.[18][5] In 2014 she spoke at Girlpower UNISA.[19] In 2016 she appeared on SABC 2 Visionaries' Lounge.[20] She has also appeared on Moves and Shakers.[21] She was featured on CNBC Africa.[22] She is a contributor to Talking Heads, an African speakers platform for change-makers.[23]

Mthunzi is co-chair of the South African Young Academy of Science.[24][25] She is helping the Young African Scientists in Europe (YASE) with their 2018 meeting, dedicated to African early career researchers.[26]

Awards and honours[edit]

2011 - Selected to participate in the IAP/World Economic Forum's Summer Davos conference in Dalian, China[2]

2012 - Order of Mapungubwe in Bronze, awarded by Jacob Zuma[27][28]

2012 - SPIE One to Watch[29]

2012 - Forbes magazine Ten youngest power women in Africa[30][31][32]

2012 - South Africa's Most Influential Women[33]

2014 - Plenary speaker at the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics International Conference for Women in Physics[34]

2014 - Selected to the Global Young Academy

2014 - Emerging Leader at Genentech, San Francisco

2017 - Selected to attend BRICS Young Scientist Forum in China, Zhejiang University [35]


  1. ^ a b "Dr Patience Mthunzi | The Presidency". Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  2. ^ a b c d "Dr Patience Thenjiwe Mthunzi-Kufa | CSIR". Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  3. ^ Mafika (2013-01-10). "South African scientist hailed as power woman | Brand South Africa". Brand South Africa. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  4. ^, Caren B. Les, and Karen A. Newman,. "Ones to Watch". Retrieved 2018-03-03.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  5. ^ a b Allemand, Luc. "Interview with Patience Mthunzi-Kufa". YASE Conference. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  6. ^ "Optical sorting and photo-transfection of mammalian cells". Dholakia, Kishan, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South Africa, University of St Andrews. 2010-11-30. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: others (link)
  7. ^ "Univ. of St. Andrews Chapter | SPIE Membership: SPIE". Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  8. ^ Mthunzi, Patience; He, Kuang; Ngcobo, Sandile; Khanyile, Thulile; Warner, Jamie H. (2014-05-01). "Graphene for improved femtosecond laser based pluripotent stem cell transfection". Journal of Biophotonics. 7 (5): 351–362. doi:10.1002/jbio.201300028. ISSN 1864-0648. PMID 23996967.
  9. ^ "Seminar by Dr. Patience Mthunzi 'Biomedical Applications of Lasers in Biophotonics' | OIST Groups". Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  10. ^ "Dr Patience Mthunzi CSIR, South Africa visits LMI Unit | OIST Groups". Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  11. ^ Mthunzi, Patience. "Patience Mthunzi | Speaker | TED". Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  12. ^ Mthunzi, Patience, Could we cure HIV with lasers?, retrieved 2018-03-03
  13. ^ "Giant pouched rats, baby corals & the FBI: A recap of TEDFellows Session 2 at TED2015". TED Blog. 2015-03-17. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  14. ^ Wakefield, Jane (2015-03-16). "Eighteen minutes to change the world". BBC News. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  15. ^ "Removing HIV With Laser Beams: The Sci-Fi Treatment That Just Might Work". Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  16. ^ "TEDxTalk: Could We Cure HIV with Lasers? | Patience Mthunzi". Medical Bag. 2016-11-07. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  17. ^ "A Cure for HIV?". Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  18. ^ "Come Back: How Africa Attracts Its Young Scientists – SFSA". Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  19. ^ Nkululeko Mpakama (2014-06-20), Girlpower UNISA Dr Patience Mthunzi, retrieved 2018-03-03
  20. ^ you belong (2016-02-22), Visionaries' Lounge - Episode 19: Dr Patience Mthunzi-Kufa, retrieved 2018-03-03
  21. ^ eNCAMoversAndShakers (2013-05-22), Movers&Shakers | Dr Patience Mthunzi (Episode 19), retrieved 2018-03-03
  22. ^ "Patience Mthunzi Archives - CNBC Africa". CNBC Africa. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  23. ^ "Dr Patience Mthunzi Archives - Talking Heads". Talking Heads. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  24. ^ "Patience Mthunzi-Kufa - SAYAS". SAYAS. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  25. ^ "Background Information - SAYAS" (PDF). Department of Economics at Stellenbosch University. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  26. ^ (2018-02-01), Patience Mthunzi-Kufa: from Soweto to Scotland and back again / de Soweto à l'Ecosse, et de retour, retrieved 2018-03-03
  27. ^ "The Order of Mapungubwe | The Presidency". Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  28. ^ " - Connecting People Through News". Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  29. ^ "SPIE Members Working in Optical Science Are 'Ones to Watch'". Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  30. ^ -. "Ten youngest power women in Africa". The Standard. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  31. ^ Nsehe, Mfonobong. "The 20 Youngest Power Women In Africa 2012". Forbes. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  32. ^ "20 Youngest Power Women in Africa - Global Black History". Global Black History. 2012-12-17. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  33. ^ "Patience Mthunzi | Who's Who SA". Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  34. ^ "ICWIP 2014". Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  35. ^ "Drs Patience Mthunzi-Kufa and Angela Dudley fly CSIR flag high | CSIR". Retrieved 2018-03-03.