SA launches nanotech centres


South African Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena has launched the country’s first two national nanotechnology innovation centres.

The launch forms part of the government’s plan to ensure South Africa remains competitive in the international research community in the fast-developing field of nanoscience and nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is a field of applied science and technology which manipulates materials on an atomic or molecular scale, particularly in the construction of microscopic devices such as robots.

The two innovation centres have been established at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Mintek in Pretoria.

Mangena said South Africa, as a developing nation, will benefit from nanotechnology. “We therefore have to create an environment conducive to harnessing the potential benefits of this promising field of science,” he said.

“Theirs will not be blue sky research but one with identified, tangible measurables. They will have to be at the forefront, the tone-setters and catalysts of the country’s research and development programme in Nanotechnology.”

The focus of the CSIR centre is on the design and modelling of novel nano-structured materials, while the centre at Mintek focuses on water, health, mining and minerals.

These areas have been identified in the department of science and technology’s (DST’s) National Nanotechnology Strategy as key in the development of nanoscience and nanotechnology in order to effect social development.

Both centres will have a strong focus on human capital development by training and developing young scientists who will stimulate growth in South Africa’s emerging nanotechnology industry.

Dr Daven Compton, head of nanoscience and nanotechnology at Mintek expressed pride at Mintek’s selection to host one of these centres.

“We are confident that the Mintek consortium will be able to build on to its existing strengths to, ultimately, provide nanotechnology-based products that will find commercial favour in the global arena,” he said.

The Mintek consortium consists of the DST, the Medical Research Council, the Water Research Commission, the Universities of Johannesburg, the Western Cape and Rhodes.

“Through the synergies achieved by means of this powerful partnership, the DST/Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre will initially have three focal areas which will be represented in the fields of sensor, biolabel and water nanotechnology,” said Compton.

Dr Suprakas Sinha Ray, chief researcher and leader at the CSIR centre, said that “we are still in the initial wave of nanotechnology, in which most of the nanotechnology-based products on the market are linked to defence and national security applications or to sporting goods and consumer-convenience items, is currently being experienced.“