By Zindzi Nkunzi
Last week, at the Barratt lecture theatre, Rhodes University hosted a two-day Department of Science and Innovation (DSI)-Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre (NIC) annual workshop. Each session featured a keynote speaker from Mintek who spoke about the latest sensors, water, and bio labels developments. Following the presentation of the main speakers, the Masters and PhD speakers from the respective universities presented their work projects.
Professor Philani Mashazi, Deputy Director of the Nanotechnology Institute at Rhodes University, presided over the first day of the workshop. He extended a heartfelt welcome to all attendees and distinguished guests but noted that some speakers and government officials who were expected to attend could not do so. “Unfortunately, this workshop coincided with several government activities, so people from the department of Higher Education & Training (DHET), DSI, and the CPO were unable to attend,” he explained.
Professor Peter Clayton, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation at Rhodes University, extended a grateful hand to all attendees and distinguished guests. In his absence, he acknowledged the colleagues from DHET and DSI as "critical role players."
He also expressed his excitement about hosting the workshop in person after being unable to do so for the previous two years. The last workshop was held at Rhodes University in 2018.
"We are thrilled to have you in this small town for a live workshop that we haven't been able to do in several years." "It is an honour to be able to host this workshop here at Rhodes University," he said.
Professor Clayton provided an overview of the DSI-Mintek NIC program and how it has benefited Rhodes University. "I believe the entire country has benefited from it," he added.
Recognising the program's contribution and work, he stated, "the program has been running for 16 years, it has been an enormous investment from the government treasury through the DSI, and it has been a massive success."
Mintek is one of South Africa's first two nanotechnology centers. The government established the Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre (NIC) in 2007 through the Department of Science and Technology (DST). The center is a national facility with locations throughout South Africa. It comprises three science councils: Mintek, the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Water Research Commission (WRC), and three university nodes. Rhodes University (RU) focuses on Sensors, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) focuses on Water, and the University of Western Cape (UWC) focuses on Biolabels. The main aim of the NIC, then, "was to equip nanotechnology research to create a community of nanotechnology researchers and equip them with research tools”.
"Nanotechnology has evolved into a technology with significant social and environmental implications for our country and planet." "The work and research you are doing will not be for your own benefit but for the benefit of all humanity and the natural world," Professor Clayton stated.
Dr Lucky Sikhwivhilu, the head of the Nanotechnology Innovation Centre (NIC), presented on the centre's journey; NIC does the structure, services it provides, activities, and programs. He also discussed the role and significance of nanotechnology.
"Science is a global enterprise, and it requires us to come together and pool our resources and ideas to ensure that we achieve all of the goals and objectives that have been established," Dr Sikhwivhilu said.
He stated that there had been progress from simply publishing knowledge to applications. "Nanotechnology is expected to be about not only materials but also where we apply this material to achieve the greatest impact possible?" he asked.
The NIC plays an important role that extends beyond research and knowledge generation. The program investigates whether "we are working on problematic issues in the country?" If so, how much so?"
"The long-term vision is that we can impact society in ways that we could not otherwise, and that is important to realise," Dr Sikhwivhilu said.
Students from various universities presented their research projects, detailing the significance of their specific studies, their work journey, and other details.
Dr Keneiloe Sikhwivhilu, the Principal Scientist at Mintek, presented on the Water development. "We see ourselves making a difference and providing high-quality water," she explained.
Dr Charlotte Maserumule, Mintek's Chief Scientist, discussed biolabel developments and provided more information on the new health project dubbed 'PhilisaSechaba.' They consider health platforms to be important as well.
Dr Teboho Mokhena, Mintek's Principal Research Scientist, presented on nanomineral developments. Detailing the technological projects on which they are working, as well as their capabilities and roles. In his presentation, he emphasised the commercialisation aspect. He stated, "technology is the future."
The workshop concluded with a prize-giving and dinner at Belmont Golf Club. The NIC honoured everyone who contributed to the workshop's success by handing out small tokens of appreciation on this night filled with laughter and excitement. Furthermore, winners from the scholars who presented their work projects were recognised. A special honour to the Rhodes University Distinguished Professor Tebello Nyokong was made.
Dr Sikhwivhilu and Professor Mashazi expressed their appreciation to everyone who came.