Massive boost for research equipment at UP

Posted on February 19, 2014

Professor Stephanie Burton, Vice-Principal: Research and Postgraduate Education, congratulated the researchers who have won the awards. “Such substantial grants are made on the basis of the cutting edge science being done at UP and the excellent researchers, who can now make even more significant progress in their research programmes,” she explained.

“This is a crucial investment in our research infrastructure that will sustain our competitiveness and stimulate global collaboration in cutting-edge research in a number of critical research areas,” says Dr Carol Nonkwelo, Director of Research at UP. “We are excited about the possibilities this will unlock for our research staff and students for years to come.”

Several of scientific instruments listed below will be the first of their kind in the country (and in one case, a first for Africa) and will therefore enable UP to take the lead in these fields.

The cutting-edge single-molecule spectroscope destined for the Department of Physics will be the first of its kind on the African continent. Dr Tjaart Krüger and his team will use it to study processes taking place between single molecules inside living cells. “We will obtain incredibly detailed information about interactions and energy transfer processes inside living cells, looking at one molecule at a time, something that has not been possible before at this detailed level,” he explains. “This new technique will help us to unravel how living cells protect themselves against stress conditions such as intense light or disease.”

The Department of Physics is also getting a new molecular beam epitaxy system – the first one in South Africa. “We will use this equipment to build crystals, one atomic layer at a time, in a highly controlled and pure environment,” Prof Chris Theron explains. “Our ultimate goal is to confine electrons within specific regions of the crystal so that we will be able to study quantum effects.”

The Institute for Cellular and Molecular medicine will acquire a high-performance cell sorter. “With this much-needed cell sorter we will be able to identify and isolate stem cell populations so that they can be studied in more detail,” Institute director Prof Michael Pepper explains. “It also makes it possible to keep the cells in a sterile environment for patients who are to be treated.”

The high-throughput real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction system to be installed in the Department of Genetics is a powerful analytical instrument that researchers will use to explore gene expression and genetic variation for hundreds of genes in cell and tissue samples from people, animals, plants and microbes. “This is an important investment in post-genomics research aimed at understanding the molecular underpinnings of complex biological systems and identifying new biotechnology targets,” says Prof Zander Myburg.

Prof Resia Pretorius from the Department of Physiology was instrumental in obtaining the grant to buy a state-of-the-art scanning electron microscope with a cryo-transfer unit and a high-resolution coater, as well as an electron dispersive spectroscopy system. The equipment will be housed within the University’s Unit for Microscopy and Microanalysis. “Scientists from many different disciplines will be able to use this new instrument for cutting-edge analysis and so-called ultra-structural investigations,” she explains. “I am particularly excited about the biological applications of this technology.”

A new scanning electron microscope for the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgical Engineering will make a huge difference in delivering highly skilled people for the metallurgical industry and doing cutting-edge, globally competitive research. “We simply cannot continue our current research in fields such as mineral processing, hydrometallurgy, pyrometallurgy, physical metallurgy, corrosion and welding engineering without it,” Prof Andrie Garbers-Craig emphasises. “We will mainly use the instrument for research directly relevant to the direct needs of the South African metallurgical industry.”

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