Musa Siphiwe Doctor Manzi

University of the Witwatersrand

2016 Africa Award for Research Excellence in Earth or Ocean Sciences Winner

Musa Siphiwe Doctor Manzi received the 2016 Africa Award for Research Excellence in Earth Science at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 14 December 2016 in San Francisco, Calif. The award honors an ­early-­career scientist from the African continent for “completing significant work that shows the focus and promise of making outstanding contributions to research in Earth and space sciences.” 


Dr. Musa Manzi is richly deserving of the AGU Africa Award for Research Excellence in Earth Science. A close reading of Dr. Manzi’s published work in international journals reveals an original problem solver and interpretive thinker, and the strength of his academic curriculum vitae, together with his ongoing work, paints a clear picture of an emerging leader in the field of exploration geophysics. While conducting research on ­three-­dimensional seismic imaging of the South African crust, Musa has also thrown himself with committed enthusiasm and great skill into teaching not only seismological theory and applications but also field-based geophysical research to a growing group of international students.

Musa’s life story, seemingly insurmountable obstacles overcome and subsequent achievements, makes him effectively peerless as an African scientist. However, one does not need to be aware of these aspects of his life and times to fully appreciate his scientific work.

Dr. Manzi advances techniques for resource identification and extraction while furthering the science of being able to do so safely, with the interest of the human workers in mind. As an example, we may cite a pair of papers published by Musa in 2012 in the journal Geophysics about seismic attributes, properties of the seismic wavefield that are measured as proxies for properties of the subsurface. In the first paper, new attributes are designed to evaluate ore resources (finding gold), and in the second, these are used to map conduits for water and methane (protecting miners). Sophisticated techniques of ­three-­dimensional wavefield processing are developed and deployed to produce some truly stunning interpreted images of the shallow subsurface. In each case, the skill of the processing routines is responsible for the remarkable quality of the images. In these papers, we see a master of ­exploration-­seismic imaging at play. Beyond seismology, they have been influencing other research endeavors, for example, into the deep subsurface microbiology of the Witwatersrand Basin. Joining these interdisciplinary studies with intellectual audacity and engaging leadership, Musa has now ventured into correlating ­three-­dimensional fracture networks with (a)biogenic gas compositions, microbiology, and subsurface-fracture fluid flow.

Although his rise from student to lecturer to senior researcher and director of the Seismic Research Centre at the University of the Witwatersrand has been meteoric, Musa continues to find time for teaching science and mentoring: undergraduates and graduates, disadvantaged youth, precollege students (on Saturdays), and the beneficiaries of a number of charities that he founded and in which he maintains an active involvement.

—Frederik Simons, Princeton University, Princeton, N.J.


I am very grateful to AGU and the members of the selection committee for this unexpected honor, which I receive with heartfelt gratitude and humility. Being a first recipient of the prestigious 2016 Africa Award for Research Excellence in Earth Science at this stage of my academic career is indeed great motivation and a tremendous honor. I will never forget the hour when I received that email from AGU informing me of the astounding news and how I literally burst into tears of joy and remained speechless at my office desk.

I have always been intrigued by science, involving a combination of physics, math, and geology ever since my undergraduate studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. During my undergraduate years, I had the privilege of working as an assistant researcher for 3 years in physics research laboratories, including the High Pressure and Mossbauer laboratories, which provided me with an opportunity to explore and appreciate the beauty of science. Furthermore, assisting Susan Webb during my vacation periods with many geophysical projects introduced me to the application of physics principles in Earth science, a crucial route that moved me from the physics department to the School of Geosciences for my fourth year in geophysics and then postgraduate studies. My most sincere thanks go to my geophysics lecturers, Susan Webb and Raymond Durrheim. Since my very first footsteps into geophysics, they have been inspiring and nourishing me.

I would also like to express my gratitude to my Ph.D. advisor and mentors, Kim Hein, Lewis Ashwal, and Roger Gibson, who were key personalities for my academic life. I was fortunate to be given by them the liberty to pursue my own interests and conduct independent research on various components of geophysics. I am truly grateful to Frederik Simons and Tullis Onstott for being kind enough to nominate me for this award. For one who grew up under extreme poverty in a rural village in South Africa, and who taught himself and his classmates physics and math because there were no teachers, such an honor is far from ­self-­evident and encourages me to continue on in developing the next generation of inspired and enthusiastic young African scientists. Without the love and support of my family and friends, the emotional toil of teaching and supervising postgraduate students while running many nonprofit organizations would have been unbearably onerous.

—Musa S. D. Manzi, School of Geosciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa