SA, European scientists ‘in synch’

23 May 2013

South Africa’s National Research Foundation (NRF) has signed an agreement with the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France to promote scientific collaboration and knowledge sharing.

The NRF has become a full international scientific partner to the ESRF through the agreement, which will facilitate the access of South African scientists to the ESRF and of European scientists to South Africa’s research opportunities and expertise.

“This is a remarkable achievement and it recognises the excellence of our local scientists as well as the global research opportunities that can be accessed from South Africa,” NRF chief executive officer, Albert van Jaarsveld, said in a statement on Wednesday.

South Africa is the first African country to become a member of the ESRF.

‘Strong scientific collaboration’

Scientists from South African research organisations and the ESRF have enjoyed strong collaborations since the early 1990s. Several of the country’s industries have also conducted research at the ESRF – Sasol, for example, has experts based at the facility.

Local scientists’ achievements using synchrotrons have also been featured in leading international journals such as Nature and Science.

“A synchrotron is a brilliant source of near laser quality ‘light’, which covers the spectrum from the infra-red to the hard X-ray regime in a continuous manner,” the NRF said.

It allows for research in numerous fields, including nanoscience, medicine, the biosciences, environmental sciences and geosciences.

Synchrotrons have also driven innovation in palaeontology, enabling fossils to be studied more closely, even if they are still partially enclosed in rock.

“South African paleontology recently made international headlines when the brain of an early human ancestor Australopithecus sediba specimen nicknamed Karabo was visualised and studied in the fossilised skull buried in stone,” the NRF said.

This was a world-first for syncrhotron technology.

“For some years now, we have seen a new growth trajectory in science in South Africa and the agreement between the NRF and ESRF serves to further build human capital and research capacity for sustainable growth and development in South Africa,” said the Science and Technology Department’s Thomas Auf der Heyde.

SAinfo reporter