Research

Premier nano conference comes to the continent

The first-ever African Chapter of the established International Conference on Surfaces, Coatings and Nanostructured Materials (NANOSMAT-Africa), got off to an excellent start on Monday with approximately 300 delegates from all over the world, but mostly from Africa, gathering at the iconic Lord Charles Hotel in Somerset West near Cape Town.

Approximately 300 delegates from all over the world, but mostly from Africa, gathered at the iconic Lord Charles Hotel in Somerset West near Cape Town for the first-ever African Chapter of the established International Conference on Surfaces, Coatings and Nanostructured Materials (NANOSMAT-Africa).

The conference is a joint venture by Unisa, the NANOSMAT Society, the National Research FoundationiThemba Labs, the United Nations, the UNESCO/Unisa partnership, the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), and the South African Department of Science and Technology.

Scientific African journal, a quarterly publication with Editor-in-Chief Benji Gyampoh is published by Next Einstein Forum in partnership with Elsevier and is a multidisciplinary, open access and fully peer-reviewed publication.

The seeds for NANOSMAT-Africa were planted during informal discussions at the 2014 conference in Dublin. An established name in nanoscience and nanotechnology conferences, NANOSMAT provides a unique platform for discussing key aspects of materials-related nanoscience and nanotechnology.

Not just ‘ivory-tower’ solutions

NANOSMAT-Africa is largely due to the efforts of Prof Malik Maaza, incumbent of the UNESCO-Unisa Africa Chair in Nanosciences and Nanotechnology, in collaboration with iThemba Labs, who, despite personal health issues, tirelessly worked towards putting together a world-class conference. As Dr Nasar Ali from the NANOSMAT Society said in his welcome remarks, “The 2018 NANOSMAT conference is happening because of Professor Malik”.

Co-hosts Dr Rudzani Nemutudi, Deputy Director of iThemba Labs, and Professor Thenjiwe Meyiwa, Unisa’s Vice-Principal of Research, Postgraduate Studies, Innovation, and Commercialisation, officially welcomed delegates.

Meyiwa highlighted the importance of a conference of such nature but emphasised that solutions should speak to everyday life and not be ‘ivory-tower’ solutions. She referred to the history of Unisa as the oldest university in South Africa and the continuing role it plays in shaping South Africa and the continent.

Pivotal role played by innovation

In her opening session, Prof Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, former (sixth) President of the Republic of Mauritius and a world reference in phytochemistry, focused on two key aspects driving economic growth in Africa, agriculture and health, and the pivotal role played by innovation as a key differentiating factor. To quote her: “Unconventional people can do unconventional things. It starts with all of us.”

Prof Ameenah Gurib-Fakim (Former President: Republic of Mauritius and a world reference in phytochemistry)

Prof Gansen Pillay (Deputy CEO: Research and Innovation Support and Advancement, NRF)

Prof Gansen Pillay, Deputy CEO of Research and Innovation Support and Advancement at the NRF, focused on the strategic positioning of nanotechnology during his opening contribution. He emphasised the contribution already made by Africa to scientific research with references to the South African Large Telescope (SALT) near Sutherland and MEERKAT, the world’s biggest radio telescope and part of the future Square Kilometre Array (SKA) near Carnarvon. He emphasised the importance of nanotechnology on the national and international research agenda: “Nanotechnology is the epicentre of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

Pillay left the audience with three questions to ponder during the conference:

  1. How does NANOSMAT-Africa successfully and effectively use Artificial Intelligence to meet the challenges of poverty and inequality?
  2. Can NANOSMAT-Africa successfully use machine learning and deep learning to optimise the delivery of public health?
  3. Is NANOSMAT-Africa ready to develop tools for dealing with the challenges of agriculture, food security, water scarcity, etc.?

Creation of novel nanotechnology applications

In the last presentation before the first Plenary Session, Dr Romilla Maharaj, Executive Director of the NRF, focused on the implementation of the South African National Nanotechnology Strategy. She explained the objectives of the NRF to provide support for long-term nanoscience research, to support the creation of novel nanotechnology applications in various areas, to develop human and capital infrastructure needed for technology development, and to stimulate new technology research in advanced materials.

Dr Romilla Maharaj (ED: NRF)

Dr Rudzani Nemutudi (Deputy Director: iThemba Labs)

Since 2005, 84 equipment grants have been awarded for the characterisation of nanomaterials and 25 NFP grants were awarded to established and early career researchers to demonstrate the benefits of nanotechnology and its impact on some of the key challenges facing South Africa. These challenges focused on water, health, chemical and bioprocessing, mining and minerals, and advanced material and manufacturing.

Global platform to publish and share

The conference also introduced the Scientific African Journal, a quarterly publication with Editor-in-Chief Benji Gyampoh. The first issue will be available before the end of 2018. The journal is published by Next Einstein Forum in partnership with Elsevier and is a multidisciplinary, open access and fully peer-reviewed publication. The journal aims to provide Africa’s scientists a global platform to publish and share their breakthrough research.

Prof Malik Maaza (Incumbent of the UNESCO-Unisa Africa Chair in Nanosciences and Nanotechnology) introduces the Scientific African journal in the place of absent Editor-in-Chief Benji Gyampoh.

Since its inception in 2005, NANOSMAT has rapidly established itself to become a leading conference in the field of nanomaterials related nanoscience and nanotechnology. The NANOSMAT conference series foster the gathering of talented and truly international people to exchange ideas, share new knowledge and technical know-how in the broad NANO fields. The NANOSMAT conference started in Portugal in 2005 and was held only in Europe until the American and Asian chapters were launched in 2012 and 2013 respectively. In 2018, it is time for the African Chapter to see the light.

Prof Michelle Havenga (ED: CGS, Unisa) and Prof Thenjiwe Meyiwa (VP: Research, Postgraduate Studies, Innovation, and Commercialisation, Unisa)

The conference continues until 23 November 2018, and the opening day was chaired by Prof Michelle Havenga, Executive Dean of the College of Graduate Studies (CGS) at Unisa.

*By François Louw

Publish date: 2018-11-21 00:00:00.0