NRF signs international partnership

NRF CEO Dr Albert van Jaarsveld has said that astronomy could make South Africa a world leader. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
NRF CEO Dr Albert van Jaarsveld has said that astronomy could make South Africa a world leader. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
Cape Town - The National Research Foundation (NRF) announced on Monday the signing of an agreement that will see the South African institution granted more access to a European research facility.

The agreement with the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in France means that SA becomes a partner in the research conducted at the institution.

"This is a remarkable achievement, and it recognises the excellence of our local scientists as well as the global research opportunities that can be accessed from South Africa," said Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, CEO of the NRF.

A synchrotron is a brilliant source of near laser quality "light", which covers the spectrum from the infra-red to the hard X-ray regime in a continuous manner.

The technology enables research of into a wide range of fields including medicine, the biosciences, materials science, nanoscience, the environmental sciences and the geosciences.

Skills

"For some years now, we have seen a new growth trajectory in science in South Africa, and the agreement between the NRF and ESRF serves to further build human capital and research capacity for sustainable growth and development in South Africa," said Dr Auf der Heyde of the department of science and technology (DST).

SA is racing to deliver the research capability for major scientific endeavours like the MeerKAT (Karoo Array Telescope) and SKA (Square Kilometre Array) instruments.

It is critical that the country develops a depth of skills in the sciences, but SA is hamstrung by relatively small pool of engineers.

Additionally, few matrics who finish school have the required skills in the key subjects of mathematics and science.

In 2009, 133 505 learners passed maths out of 290 407 who wrote, but that declined to 121 970 passes in 2012, according to the department of basic education's National Senior Certificate Examination School Subject Report 2012.

Van Jaarsveld conceded that education was a stumbling block, but told News24 recently that an enabling environment should be created for the learners that do achieve academically.

"But on the other hand, we have 50 000 kids a year in the system who graduate with maths so there's a lot of talent out already that we could be using much more effectively so we have to grow the pipeline, but we also have to create opportunities for the people that we do know have the skills and the talent to pursue a career in that particular area."

The analysis of the Australopithecus sediba fossil was conducted with synchrotron technology and it allowed researchers to "look" inside the rock without damaging the structure.

The DST has a 10 year innovation plan to grow scientific innovation with social-economic benefits in SA.


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