By Julian A Jacobs, PhD candidate, School of Journalism and Media Studies
Dr Philani Mashazi, a senior lecturer within the Department of Chemistry at Rhodes University, was recently awarded an amount of R3.5m from the National Research Foundation’s National Equipment Programme.
The funds will go towards the upgrade of the TOF-SIMS (Time-of-Flight Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer) which was commissioned in 2014 and launched by then Minister of Science and Technology, the Honourable Naledi Pandor.
“This equipment is state-of-the-art and a first of its kind in South Africa and in Africa. The equipment can perform analysis with atomic mass resolution as well molecular ion mass resolution. The upgrade of the TOF-SIMS will increase its capabilities and range of possible analysis,” said Dr Mashazi.
Dr Mashazi has been supporting the work of the National Facility by overseeing the work of the Rhodes University/DST Centre for Nanotechnology Innovation (CNI), which is funded by the Department of Science and Technology. Specifically, he manages the X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS) and the TOF-SIMS.
“The amount will be spent on purchasing the Argon Gas Cluster which will allow for analysis of soft material, biological molecules and chemical compounds,” Dr Mashazi explained. He believes that the upgrade will benefit research and grow the scope within the CNI and Chemistry Department. “Up till now, the TOF-SIMS equipment could only analyse inorganic materials and this was limiting for the diverse and multi-disciplinary research activities within the Nanotechnology and Chemistry Departments,” he said. “We anticipate obtaining very exciting results because of the enhanced sensitivity of the upgraded TOF-SIM equipment.”
In terms of the impact of his work on society, Dr Mashazi stresses that his research focuses on the design of ultra-sensitive sensing systems for the detection of molecules that are of biological, chemical and environmental importance. “The benefit of these systems is that diseases can be detected early, thus allowing for their effective and timely treatment. The systems can also be used to detect environmental pollutants or contaminants in water. These system can be used to warn communities of the exposure to contaminants so that preventative steps can be taken,” Dr Mashazi said.
The results emanating from the use of this equipment will be published in high-impact peer-reviewed international journals, thus upholding the reputation of Rhodes University as a research-intensive institution that produces high quality research.
Furthermore, postgraduate students at MSc and PhD levels will be trained on the use and interpretation of the results obtained from this state-of-the-art equipment.
To read more about Dr Mashazi and his research interests, please see: https://www.ru.ac.za/chemistry/staff/academicstaff/drpmashazi/