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New lab set up in South Africa thanks to UK partnership

A new South African particle detector laboratory, which has been set up thanks to UK funding, will help to train the next generation of nuclear scientists – with hopes to provide low-cost medical equipment and environmental monitoring technology to the country.

The lab has been set up in the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and University of Zululand in South Africa – two historically disadvantaged universities with a large cohort of students on their Masters in Nuclear Science programme.

Professor Nico Orce, of UWC, said the new laboratory will allow them to develop detectors which could help them understand the nuclear reactions taking place in space, and create technology for medical purposes.

He said: "The Modern African Nuclear DEtector LAboratory at the University of the Western Cape brings new training possibilities and state-of-the-art capabilities for South African students.

“Nuclear imaging with plastic scintillators, because of its much lower cost, could be distributed to all hospitals in Africa.”

It has been established as part of a year-long collaboration between the two universities and the University of York in the UK, and the project has been funded by STFC through the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund programme.

The collaboration hopes that the lab – dubbed MANDELA (Modern African Nuclear DEtector LAboratory) by the students – will be not only be used to help develop and manufacture state-of-the-art particle detectors, but also serve as a teaching and learning laboratory for the universities’ students.

Sizwe Mhlongo, MSc student, University of Zululand said: "As an industrialised area, Richards Bay where our University is situated constitutes of some of the heavy industrial activities which potentially contribute to environmental radiation; therefore with the MANDELA lab it will be possible to monitor background radiation.

“Additionally, the lab will also benefit physics students in the Department of Physics and Engineering as they will receive hands on training on nuclear particle detection. I also anticipate an increase in the number of postgraduate students in the department. I am truly looking forward to the building of the MANDELA legacy.”

As part of the grant, six students from UWC and UZ visited York this year for three-week training periods.

Project lead Professor David Jenkins, from the University of York, said: “It has been a pleasure to collaborate with the UWC and University of Zululand. We have had the opportunity to train six excellent young people from the two universities in our lab at the University of York.

“The enthusiasm of the young people is very striking.”

More information on the project is available online.


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