University of Pretoria researchers granted huge NRF awards

Posted on January 26, 2009

RISP is one of the National Research Foundation’s (NRF) key programmes aimed at creating wealth, jobs and the eradication of poverty.

According to the NRF the achievement of these goals depend largely on the development of new products, technologies and services through research and innovation. New knowledge and technologies can only be developed through research in an environment where researchers have access to infrastructure that includes state-of-the-art research equipment.

One of the recipients is Prof Johan Brink in the Department of Physics. He received a grant of R4,7 million to purchase a Raman spectroscopy, used to study vibrational, rotational, and other low-frequency modes in a system. Pictured above is the self-built model that is to be replaced by the new instrument.

The spectroscopy will be used by various research teams within the Faculties of Natural and Agricultural Sciences and Engineering. The research focus in the Department of Physics is solid state physics and electronic materials, which involves the study of defects introduced during critical processing steps in some semi-conductors, which has technological implications as it can change the electronic properties of the material.

“The Raman spectroscopy provides information about the structural and electrical modifications in materials,” says Prof Brink.

The spectroscopy will also be used to study archaeological material, the structures of various chemical complexes and their spectroscopic properties, bone cancer and potential drugs for its treatments, testing the viability of new flotation reagents for the platinum mining industry, pigment determination in San rock art (pictured below) and soil formation on Marion Island. In addition, the spectroscopy will also be used by researchers working on the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR), a project of national importance.

 

“Our main objective for obtaining this instrument is to regain and increase our status as a leader in the field of Raman spectroscopy and in doing so contribute to the quality and quantity of the research output of the University and the region,” says Prof Brink.

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Prof John Taylor in the Department of Food Science received a R1 million RISP grant from the NRF to purchase a differential scanning calorimeter (DSC). The DSC is mainly used to study phase transitions, such as melting, glass transitions, or exothermic decompositions. These transitions involve energy changes or heat capacity changes that can be detected by DSC with great sensitivity.

 “This equipment is capable of characterising thermal transformations and properties that affect time or temperature dependent heat flow to material such as starch or a plastic. Such properties include melting, crystallization, other phase and glass transitions, heat capacity, chemical reactions and evaporation,” says Prof Taylor.

The DSC will be used by various departments including Food Science, Chemistry, Polymer Science, Material Science and Chemical Engineering.

According to Prof Taylor the fact that UP did not have a DSC seriously hampered the institution’s ability to perform state-of-the-art research in the field of material thermal behaviour: “In the past, the Department of Food Science had to send food samples to Europe and the United States of America (USA) to be analysed. In doing so we forego the opportunity to produce well-trained, innovative young researchers who will create depth within our academic and professional workforce. The acquisition of this equipment will undoubtedly improve the quality of research.”

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