From left to right: Dr Eric Maluta, Prof Patricia Whitelock, Ms Priscilla Nemaangani, Prof Patrick Woudt. Picture by: Mr Peter Mashishi (Univ. of Venda).
At the 64th Annual Conference of the South African Institute of Physics in Polokwane (8-12 July 2019), Prof Whitelock was awarded the 2018 SAIP Gold Medal for her outstanding research career in astronomy and astrophysics, and for her distinguished and extensive contributions to leadership, education and human capacity development of the Physics and Astronomy community.
Prof Whitelock is an NRF A-rated researcher who has authored and co-authored 190 peer-reviewed journal articles over her career. Her research is focused on our understanding of the late stages of stellar evolution and mass-loss of evolved stars, the structure of the Milky Way galaxy, and the stellar content of the local group galaxies. Her scientific work has been cited over 8000 times.
Prof Whitelock’s association with the South African Institute of Physics is long and distinguished. She has been a member since 1985, she chaired the Astrophysics group between 1990 and 1997, she served on council from 1997 to 2005, as president-elect from 1999 to 2001, and as president from 2001 to 2003. Under her leadership, the SAIP started the “Future of Physics” initiative in 2001. She was elected an honorary member of the SAIP in 2008.
During Prof Whitelock’s career she has held various important positions. She served as deputy director, acting director, and director of the South African National Facility for Optical Astronomy, the South African Astronomical Observatory. She also served on the NRF executive from 1998 to 2003. She currently is the chair of the Scientific Council of the Strasbourg Astronomical Data Centre and is a member of two executive committee working groups of the International Astronomical Union: 1) Global Coordination of Ground and Space Astrophysics, and 2) Women in Astronomy.
Prof Whitelock’s contribution to the development of the astronomical community in South Africa are extensive. She helped to establish the National Astrophysics and Space Science Program where she served as the first chair of its steering committee between 2002 and 2013. She was also one of the key drivers behind the successful bid by South Africa to host the international Office of Astronomy for Development of the IAU. She served on its founding steering committee and currently serves on the steering committee of Southern African Regional Office of Astronomy for Development.
By awarding the 2018 SAIP Gold Medal to Prof Whitelock, the SAIP bestows onto her the greatest distinction that is conferred in South Africa for achievements in Physics.