GOVERNMENT minister Naledi Pandor showed a keen understanding of cutting edge scientific issues during a visit with some of the world’s leading academics in Grahamstown yesterday.
In the City of Saints to open new state-of-the-art facilities in fields as diverse as nanotechnology and aquatic bio-diversity, Pandor’s grasp of the two complex sciences showed just why she was chosen to head government’s key Science and Technology Ministry.
Accompanied by National Research Foundation (NRF) funders – led by CEO and president Dr Albert S van Jaarsveld – the minister first visited the internationally acclaimed Rhodes University chemistry department before moving on to the equally respected South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB).
During a guided tour of the new Nanotechnology Innovation Centre with Professor Tebello Nyokong, the energetic minister met and spoke with several students from all over the world who have specifically come to Rhodes University to study with the world- renowned academic.
Nyokong’s research into using patented lasers to treat certain forms of cancer regularly attracts world experts – and postgraduate students from all over the world, including lecturers from other African countries – to the chemistry department.
During an unveiling of a plaque at the centre, Nyokong was described as a “supreme role model” and an “intellectual giant” by deputy vice-chancellor of research and development Dr Peter Clayton.
“The university owes her a huge debt of gratitude,” he said.
Pandor told the Dispatch she was “excited” by the work Nyokong was doing – especially in innovative product research.
She was also shown groundbreaking work by students using regular dyes to “manipulate” some cancers – and then laser lights to “excite the dyes” and treat the disease. The work is presently at a pre-clinical trials stage.
Other uses for the dyes included “sensitised” solar cells – which were much cheaper than regular options – and water pollution treatment to remove heavy metals.
Research was also being done using nanotechnology fibres to develop medical plasters that would “kill” bacteria in wounds.
Pandor then went to the nearby multi-million rand SAIAB buildings to see just how NRF funds were being spent.
She was taken on a tour of the facilities by director Professor Paul Skelton, and shown some rare and perfectly preserved fish species – including the coelacanth – that make up the more than 90000 different species collected.
Pandor said because South Africa was the third most biodiverse country in the world, ongoing efforts had to be made to “cherish the natural world and not destroy it”. – By DAVID MACGREGOR
Port Alfred Bureau