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CSIR African Laser Centre provides support to youth across Africa

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Over the past 15 years, the African Laser Centre (ALC) based at the Council for Scientific Industrial Research (CSIR) has contributed immensely to the development of young researchers in Science, Technology Engineering, Mathematics and Innovation (STEMI). With the ALC footprint in Africa, a number of young people across the continent have been positively impacted by its efforts to encourage research collaborations and skills transfer in an effort to advance science and technology in Africa.

Over the past 15 years, the African Laser Centre (ALC) based at the Council for Scientific Industrial Research (CSIR) has contributed immensely to the development of young researchers in Science, Technology Engineering, Mathematics and Innovation (STEMI). With the ALC footprint in Africa, a number of young people across the continent have been positively impacted by its efforts to encourage research collaborations and skills transfer in an effort to advance science and technology in Africa.

“The ALC is an open, non-exclusive partnership between African countries aimed at stimulating innovative research and technology development in the field of lasers and laser applications. We optimise the use of resources by coordinating research activities to avoid duplication, ensuring that the critical mass for sustainable progress is maintained, or developed where necessary,” said Programme co-ordinator Hardus Greyling.

One way through which the ALC provides support to the youth is by providing scholarships. Positively impacted by the ALC scholarship programme is, Alexander Paradzah from Chirumanzu, Midlands in Zimbabwe. He is currently pursuing his PhD in Physics with the University of Pretoria in the Biophysics group under the supervision of Dr Tjaart Krüger. To assist with the development of his research on Ultrafast energy transfer dynamics in hematite, plant light harvesting complexes (LHC II) and hematite based hybrid structures, he often works on experiments at the National Laser Centre at CSIR. 

“I have benefited financially from the ALC Scholarship programme for three years (2015-2017) during my PhD study. The ALC bursary is sufficient to cover for my tuition fees as well as campus residence. The ALC also organises yearly workshops where the recipients of the ALC bursary present their work. There are also invited speakers at the workshops so we get to network with other students and the invited speakers. This helps us as students to rethink our work, learn what other research groups are working on and also offers opportunities for possible collaborations. This is very important in research work,” said Alexander .

In the 2016/17 financial year, African Laser Centre supported 12 research collaboration projects between South African researchers and their counterparts from Algeria, Senegal, Nigeria, Mozambique, Tunisia, Kenya, Uganda, Botswana, Sudan, Egypt and Zimbabwe. Participating in these projects were a total 68 post-graduate students from across the African continent. Additionally, the ALC supports 20 students from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Zambia, Uganda, Gabon, Morocco, Cameroon and Nigeria to study in various laser-related research fields at South African universities. Three of them were at Master’s level and 17 at PhD level.

Over and above the academic support the ALC provides to students and researchers across the African continent, it also invests in outreach programmes. This is evident in their partnership with the CSIR Optics Student Chapter (CSIR OSC) on the South African Development Programme.  In an effort to promote photonics as an industry of interest among young people, the programme is intended on nurturing the interest of young people wanting to pursue a career in the photonics industry within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries.

“As a student chapter mandated to promote the awareness of optical science and engineering within South Africa, we were quite excited when an opportunity to collaborate with the ALC arose, it empowered us to go beyond South Africa and for the first time, expand our footprint in Africa,” said Daniel Morris, CSIR OSC President.

In the first quarter, the CSIR OSC visited the University of Namibia (UNAM), Dorado Primary School and the National University of Science and Technology in Zimbabwe. Attending the outreach programme in Namibia, were a total of 121 students and scholars while, over 100 students benefitted in Zimbabwe.

“The trip to Namibia was insightful not just for the scholars and university students but, for us as well. Amongst some of the observations made, we discovered that that there is lack of knowledge in the photonics field. As a result, more time was required for the presentation in order for the audience to fully understand the concept of photonics,” said Chris Ngobeni, member of the CSIR OSC.

Despite the growth of the photonics industry in Africa, challenges with regard to market penetration and skills and capacity development still remain.

“Although our efforts do not translate to direct skills and capacity development, our platforms do provide young people the opportunity to learn more about photonics and the opportunities that exist in this industry,” added Daniel. 

Plans to take the Southern African Development Programme to Botswana next month are underway.

“We look forward to assisting the CSIR OSC further with their visits to other Southern African regions in an effort to raise awareness and create interest around the photonics industry,” said Thomas Du Plooy, CSIR National Programmes Administrator.