Unearthing a future for young scientists by unravelling the past

 
 
 

Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan has a curious mind and an exploratory nature. Growing up, she had one ambition – to be a high-school science teacher. But she got much further than she planned. Now a palaeobiologist, Chinsamy-Turan has been recognised as one of South Africa’s most prominent scientists by the Department of Science and Technology. In the ’90s, she was part of a team that discovered a previously unknown dinosaur, Nqwebasaurus, believed to be 130 million years old. Today, Chinsamy-Turan lectures palaeobiology, a branch of science that reconstructs the biology of prehistoric animals to better understand their life and diversity at the University of Cape Town.

As an Indian woman growing up in South Africa, Chinsamy-Turan found it difficult to get into science as there were restrictions placed on which universities she could attend. The only way to afford it was through bursaries and loans. But once she started studying, she refused to let her passion for science be weakened by circumstances. Now, Chinsamy-Turan believes the climate is changing and there are better opportunities for women of colour to secure scholarships and pursue a career in science. “I often work with the Association for South African Women in Science and Engineering and I’m very involved in trying to promote and encourage young people to come into science,” she says.

Chinsamy-Turan had just become a mother when she joined the association. Rather than choosing between a career or motherhood, Chinsamy-Turan took her three-month-old son with her to meetings and learned from the other women there. The scientist has repeatedly conquered the difficulties that come with being a woman of colour in the field, and has won many awards for her scientific research. In 2002, she served as director for the Iziko Museums Natural History Collection and has written four books as well as numerous academic papers. She also served on the advisory board of SciFest Africa, the continent’s largest science festival. “I hope that many young people will be inspired to become palaeontologists and unravel some of the mysteries surrounding the world that has gone,” she says. Those lucky to be taught by or work with Chinsamy-Turan know that the future of local scientific research is in good hands, and that her abundance of enthusiasm will ensure it remains that way for generations to come.