Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor praised South Africa for becoming a major world player in cutting-edge nanotechnology despite only being involved for a short time.
Speaking at the launch of the new Rhodes University/Department of Science and Technology (DST) Centre for Nanotechnology Innovation last fall, Pandor said huge strides had been made since 2005, when South Africa took its first step entrenching this science by formulating a national strategy.
Pandor unveiled the center’s time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometer (TOF-SIMS), which will help the university focus on specialized cancer and microfiber research. The equipment is used by various departments at Rhodes University, as well as several other universities, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and Mintek. It also serves countries as far afield as Kuwait, Turkey, and China.
Hosted in the Chemistry Department under the leadership of the DST/NRF South African Research Chairs Initiative Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Nanotechnology, Tebello Nyokong, the TOF-SIMS examines thin films and provides surface compositions of these films, and studies the surface characteristics of nanoparticles. The examination of the surfaces using TOF-SIMS impacts not only on layer interactions in development of sensors and drug delivery agents but in a wide range of disciplines where thin films are employed and where the immobilization thereof is critical to the success of the technologies being examined or developed, such as electronics, physics, geology, and biotechnology. In addition, the equipment could be used in the fields of pollution treatment, in green chemistry, forensic sciences, biotechnology, and could be geared toward energy and sustainable development. The cutting-edge equipment was purchased with a combined investment of R$17 million (∼USD$1.5 million) from Rhodes, the DST, and the National Research Foundation (NRF).
In 2005, the DST launched the National Nanotechnology Strategy, which aims to coordinate nano research and development at a national level around six focus areas including water, energy, health, chemical and bio-processing, mining and minerals, and advanced materials and manufacturing. Nanotechnology Innovation Centres are also located at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Mintek.
Rhodes is a public research university located in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. The province also hosts the Ultra High Resolution Transmission Electron Microscopy Facility located at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth. According to Nyokong, the province has an important role to play in advancing the field. She said, “The news media will say [we’re in] a poor province and nothing good will come out of it, that Rhodes is too small. For me those things are challenges. This equipment, together with the equipment at NMMU makes us the hub of Nanotechnology.”
Pandor said, “The availability of the TOF-SIMS in the country will enhance the quality of research and training. The equipment will assist in advancing requirements to address the national skills shortage in many key areas of research.”
The Minister spoke of how the 2005 National Nanotechnology Strategy had not only advanced the technology missions identified in the 2002 National Research and Development Strategy, but also strengthened government’s industrial focus.
According to Pandor, the strategy has seen the adoption of a formal nanotechnology teaching program, nanotechnology research chairs, the production of 170 postgraduate students, and the publication of more than 1100 articles in peer-reviewed journals. In addition, more than 20 patents have been filed, and it is hoped that South African-developed nanotechnology-enhanced products will soon enter the market.