UKZN recently celebrated the opening of two new high-tech laboratories on its Westville campus at an event that included academics and more than 30 external research institutions and industry.
The University has invested R14 million into the Peptide Sciences Laboratory and Laser Chemical Vapour Deposition (LCVD) and Thin Films Laboratory, which were officially opened on 7 March, by Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, with guest speaker Mr Barlow Manilal, CEO of the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), in attendance.
‘Our institution as well as the School of Chemistry and Physics (SCP) is transforming to reposition itself to become more integrated with our communities,’ said Professor Ross Robinson, Dean and Head of the SCP.
Manilal’s presentation emphasised that academia should assist with the recalibration of society, saying that innovation builds a nation, incentivises skills development and enables long-term planning, leading to increased resolve and lessons in scale and pace. Manilal said UKZN is moving in the right direction to play a role in socioeconomic development in South Africa.
Manilal said TIA is encouraging facilities aligned to national priorities as well as facilities enabling more close interaction between universities and the private sector. He noted that these facilities announce the value proposition of the university to industry.
Van Jaarsveld thanked guests for their attendance and for working with UKZN. He also gave an overview of the University’s new strategic plan and research flagships, saying that facilities like these will service all of UKZN’s research flagships and form a foundation for a university promoting innovation and entrepreneurship.
The Peptide Sciences Laboratory, housing the latest instrumentation, will be the only one in South Africa devoted to the synthesis of peptides with pharmaceutical purposes; peptides are short chains of amino acids with applications including biomaterials, nanotechnology and drug discovery.
This laboratory will accommodate around 20 postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers under the leadership of A-rated scientist Professor Fernando Albericio, who is renowned in the field of peptide synthesis. Albericio has launched various commodities for peptide synthesis to the market for cancer treatment and cosmetics. Pharmaceuticals based on peptide technology are used to combat infectious and metabolic diseases including HIV, cancer and tuberculosis.
The LCVD and Thin Films Laboratory, with its newly acquired state-of-the-art pulsed laser deposition system, will house the only instrument of this kind in the Southern Hemisphere. The instrument is capable of coating atomically thin layers of most solid materials onto any substrate that is up to 50mm in diameter. Thin films, and multi-layered thin films, play a crucial role in most modern functional devices such as integrated chips in computers, computer hard-drives, solar cells, superconducting materials, ultra-hard coatings, hi-tech sensors and optical coatings.
The advanced system in the laboratory will take researchers on a new path of materials discovery, and increase throughput in materials research and make UKZN more competitive in developing new devices.
Pioneering researcher Dr Mathew Moodley will oversee the LCVD and Thin Films Laboratory. Moodley is known for his development of a conversion electron Mossbauer Spectroscopy detector, the synthesis of single-walled carbon nanotubes, as well as for several notable military and mining safety applications.
Words: Christine Cuénod
Photograph: Albert Hirasen