16 January 2004
Africa is preparing to play a major role in the use of lasers to advance science and technology on the continent with the launch of the African Laser Centre.
Established in November 2003 by a group of African countries with an interest in laser applications, the African Laser Centre is destined to be a virtual centre that will serve as a central point for coordinating a network of excellence in laser research across the continent. The international office will be located in South Africa.
The establishment of the Centre follows deliberations held during two continental workshops and various task team meetings over the last three years.
Universities and research groups on the continent that are part of the ALC include:
- The National Laser Centre of South Africa, located within the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
- The African Laser, Atomic, Molecular and Optical Sciences Network, based in Senegal.
- The National Institute of Laser Enhanced Science in Egypt.
- The Centre de Development des Technologies Avancees in Algeria.
- The Laser and Fibre Optics Centre in Ghana.
- Tunis el Manar University in Tunisia.
The Centre will provide laser researchers and industrialists throughout Africa with research and training facilities. Given the isolation of many researchers in Africa, the Centre will maintain a database of laser researchers in the region and facilitate collaboration among them.
Another important role for the Centre will be to transfer technology from research laboratories to the marketplace. The Centre will support research and educational programmes in laser technology and present conferences, workshops, and topical school programmes.
It will also develop a research equipment programme to facilitate acquisition of and access to laser equipment.
Speaking at the launch in November 2003, Arts, Culture, Science and Technology Minister Ben Ngubane said the African Laser Centre would be “truly continental in its dimension, and should provide Africa with the boost that it needs to propel its science and technology to the forefront of world competition.”
Ngubane stressed that if the Centre provided a competitive knowledge base and attractive research and development facilities, it could contribute toward reversing the brain drain in the African laser field, and the facilities should become preferred research environments for the international community.
He added that this network of excellence would also provide the required impetus for laser technology to benefit the people of the continent.
Lasers have experienced success in cataract surgery, glaucoma and cancer treatment, as well as TB detection. In the agricultural field, lasers have an important role to play in monitoring plant stress levels to improve crop harvests.
Environmental monitoring of pollutants by remote laser could contribute substantially to improved quality of life. And in the economic sector, lasers can contribute to improving competitiveness in the manufacturing and automotive sector specifically.
“What we need to do now is integrate the expertise that exists in various parts of the continent so as to create a body of excellence in laser applications,” said Dr Phil Mjwara, interim chairman of the Centre and director of the National Laser Centre of SA.