Science coup for Grahamstown

Better air quality, cleaner water, healthier food and more effective medicines have been some of the results of research in nanotechnology. Grahamstown is now the site of a new facility for cutting-edge research in this important field.

On Friday 14 November, Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor launched the new Time-Of-Flight-Secondary-Ion-Mass-Spectrometer (TOF-SIMS) at Rhodes University's Department of Science and Technology (DST)/Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre.

The specialised equipment that enables molecular particles to be analysed was bought through a R17 million investment by the government department, the National Research Foundation (NRF) and Rhodes University.

In a media statement about the launch, the University said the facilities have made the Eastern Cape Province a significant nanotechnology hub.

Pandor said South Africa’s National Nanotechnology Strategy had been hailed by the science community as one of the best in the world, given its focus on socio-economic development.

She said this world-class equipment would attract scientists from around the world, and would help retain South African scientists and engineers. No longer would they need to leave the country to conduct effective research.

Pandor said one of her goals when she became minister in May was ensuring that South Africa ranked high in infrastructure for science and technology.

When she was appointed minister, to understand what was happening in the field she met senior managers to hear what they thought should be done to improve scientific research in South Africa.

One of these told her about the difficulties she'd encountered when she was doing her PHD.

She explained how she'd had to put her research on hold for six months because the equipment she was using had broken down. It could only be replaced in Paris, France.

This young senior manager's account drove Pandor to ensure that what had happen to her never happened again, Pandor said.

Why the new Rhodes University nanotechnology facility matters

Better air quality, cleaner water, healthier food and more effective medicines have been some of the results of research in nanotechnology.

Wikipedia’s definition of nanotechnology is “the manipulation of matter on an atomic, molecular and supramolecular scale”.

This area of science seeks ways to enhance the chemical or physical properties of materials. This includes making them lighter, stronger or producing more efficient chemical reactions.

A Secondary-Ion-Mass-Spectrometer is a crucial tool in nanotechnology research. It directs an electronic current at the surface of a substance to free the components of a molecule for analysis.

In an online article on the ToF-SIMS, Montana State University’s David Mogk explains that the type of current used in a time-of-flight spectrometer achieves a specific result.

“ToF-SIMS is also referred to as 'static' SIMS because a low primary ion current is used to 'tickle' the sample surface to liberate ions, molecules and molecular clusters for analysis," he writes.

“In contrast, ‘dynamic’ SIMS is the method of choice for quantitative analysis… Organic compounds are effectively destroyed by ‘dynamic’ SIMS, and no diagnostic information is obtained.”

More about nanotechnology and the Time-Of-Flight-Secondary-Ion-Mass-Spectrometer at:

Article by: Nomfundo Lukwe

Article source: Grocott's Mail

Source:  Grocott's Mail

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