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South Africa Leads Continent in Nanoscience 0

South Africa’s new R120-million (US$15 million) electron microscopy centre, the first of its kind on the continent, will enable the country and Africa to compete with the world’s best in nanoscience and nanotechnology research. The Centre for High Resolution Transmission Electron Microscopy (HRTEM) is based at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape.

Nanoscience is the study of atoms, molecules and objects at microscopic scale. Nanotechnology, often referred to as “the science of small things” has numerous applications in the development and manufacture of new products.

“Without a doubt, this new centre for nanoscience and nanotechnology is going to mean big business for South Africa,” says Prof Jan Neethling, head of the centre and one of the country’s foremost electron microscopists.

The hi-tech HRTEM centre was established in collaboration with the National Research Foundation, the Department of Science and Technology, Sasol and the Department of Higher Education and Training.

“To be internationally competitive in materials research and nanoscience, South Africa needed a modern, high-resolution transmission electron microscopy facility,” he says.

Bringing world-class technology to SA

Neethling says that until now South African scientists had to travel overseas to conduct research of this nature.

“For many years, South Africa couldn’t afford or didn’t realise the importance of putting money into a centre like this,” he adds.

Now that the new centre is up and running, scientists can conduct world-class research without leaving the country.

Importance of electron microscopy research

Electron microscopy uses electron microscopes to view objects. This type of microscope is capable of much higher magnifications and has a greater resolving power than a light microscope, enabling the viewing of far smaller objects in finer detail.

Developments in electron microscopy over the past 80 years have yielded many important technological advances worldwide.

It has contributed to the development of modern engineering materials and the micro-electronics revolution, which has given the world access to television, mobile phones, optical fibre communication and computers.

In the medical field it has enabled biologists to study the structure of cells, bacteria and viruses.

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By Wilma den Hartigh – Media Club South Africa

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