South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) celebrated 10 years of conducting world-class research and development in the field of nanotechnology. The CSIR’s National Centre for Nanostructured Materials (NCNSM) was launched in 2007 as part of the implementation of government’s National Nanotechnology Strategy.
Nanotechnology research is a key pillar of the CSIR’s activities that is focussed on finding solutions that address the broader societal challenges of South Africa.
In the last decade, the centre has undertaken innovative research on nanostructured materials and established an extensive research network with key local and international research organisations. The centre is well equipped with cutting-edge scaling up, polymer processing, characterisation and testing facilities, funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) to undertake research and develop technology skills in nano related areas.
Other achievements include; a prototype breath analyser to detect diabetes without the need of a blood test; setting up of the water and catalysis research groups as new research areas in nano; the polymer processing laboratory for the testing and evaluation of industrial samples and the development and establishment of the Nanomaterials Industrial Development Facility (NIDF) in 2015.
The NIDF enables industry, research entities and small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) to develop and scale up high-tech materials.
The focus at present is on using nanotechnology as a key enabler in polymer, cosmetics and other chemical related products. Cheap imports and the difficulties involved in taking laboratory developed products to the market, as well as the lack of testing and scale-up facilities, often make it difficult for SMMEs and even large companies to develop new products and materials. The NIDF was thus established to assist researchers and engineers to bridge the gap between materials development and commercialisation. In doing so, it anticipates the creation of additional jobs as one of its critical aims.
In human capital development, the centre has produced and trained more than 130 postdoctoral fellows, PhD and Master students including interns.
CSIR Chief Researcher, Prof Suprakas Sinha Ray, says the centre plays a crucial role in availing its high-tech instrumentation to various stakeholders within the nanotechnology research space.
“Research and development at the nano centre supports the manufacturing of bulk materials with improved properties, such as plastics, that are able to tolerate very high and low temperatures and plastics that possess fire retardant properties or high resistance to tearing. This includes the development of detection devices that use nanomaterials capable of detecting, gases at parts-per-million levels with greater sensitivity and accuracy,” said Prof Ray.
The NCNSM has had 17 scientific articles featured on journal cover pages and top rated articles with more than 8 000 citations including 18 national and international awards. It is led by Prof Ray who won the 2016 NSTF award for the excellence in Science and Innovation Management. He is also listed in the top 1% of high impact and influential scientists in the world (Chemistry, materials science and 22 science disciplines-2015).
Nanotechnology is a multidisciplinary field that studies materials at the very small scale of between 1 and 100 nanometers. At this scale, materials may have unique optical, mechanical, physical and chemical properties which can be used to develop novel materials for a variety of applications.