SA gears for a nano future

27 November 2007

South Africa has launched two new innovation centres to help the country compete globally in the fast-developing fields of nanotechnology and nanoscience.

The National Centre for Nano-Structured Materials (NCNSM) is based at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) campus in Pretoria, while the DST/Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre is based in Johannesburg.

Speaking at the launch in Pretoria on Monday, Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena said nanotechnology could be used to address some of South Africa’s social and economic challenges.

“We therefore have to create an environment conducive to harnessing the potential benefits of this promising field,” he said, adding that the scientists working at the new centres would be engaged in research “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.”

According to online encyclopedia Wikipedia, nanotechnology refers broadly to a field of applied science and technology whose unifying theme is the control of matter on the atomic and molecular scale, normally 1 to 100 nanometers, and the fabrication of devices within that size range. A nanometre is one-billionth of a metre.

The initial focus of research at the centre in Pretoria will be on the fabrication of novel nano-structured materials, the synthesis of polymer nano-composites, and materials modelling and simulation.

The DST/Mintek centre will focus on the application of nanotechnology in the areas of water, health, mining and minerals. Besides the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Mintek, the centre pulls together the Medical Research Council, the Water Research Commission and the universities of Johannesburg, the Western Cape and Rhodes.

Both centres will also have a strong focus on human capital development by training and developing young scientists.

“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,” said NCNSM chief researcher Suprakas Ray.

Within five to 10 years, said Ray, sophisticated electronic devices using nanoscale circuitry and memory could be expected, and within 10 to 15 years the technology could expand into pharmaceutical products, drug delivery systems and health-monitoring devices.

SAinfo reporter

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