UKZN’s School of Chemistry and Physics (SCP) on the Pietermaritzburg campus has officially opened a new building housing its Chemistry Postgraduate Research Facility which has the capacity to accommodate 70 postgraduate students in state-of-the-art laboratories and offices.

The R30-million facility was funded mainly by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).

According to Dean and Head of the School, Professor Ross Robinson, the building is the first structure added to accommodate students in these sciences since 1961, despite ever increasing numbers of students and the School’s desire to have the capacity to take on more honours, masters and PhD candidates.

The official opening was attended by about 200 industry partners, local government representatives and UKZN staff members from the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES), with proceedings handled by the Academic Leader of Chemistry on the Pietermaritzburg campus, Professor Stephen Ojwach.

‘It is very significant and of utmost importance to foster good working relationships (with government and industry) so that what we do here in terms of training and knowledge empowerment is consistent with what the industry needs,’ said Ojwach, who invited industry partners to monitor the training offered.

Ojwach said the occasion offered the opportunity for various stakeholders to gain an understanding of how research at UKZN was aligned to the national development agenda in key areas such as African health, liveable cities, climate change, and food security.

Also speaking at the event, Professor Brian McArthur, Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Law and Management Studies, representing Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Nana Poku, said: ‘The launch of the Chemistry Research Facility will further enhance our considerable science research reputation and is fitting because Chemistry is fundamental to the fabric of our lives. This is an example of the continued and conscious investment by UKZN into the future of young South Africans who we expect will become both leaders and role models in years ahead. It is therefore an honour and a pleasure to welcome this fine addition to the scholarly infrastructure of the University.’

Guests had the opportunity to tour the facilities and meet students doing research there.

UKZN has been ranked among the top three research-led universities in South Africa for the past five years.

Professor Neil Koorbanally, Academic Leader of Research at the SCP, spoke about research being done at the School and proposed industrial research support facilities. Koorbanally said witnessing such top class research facilities being built in Africa was important for donors, while the government investment involved was vital for building morale in the education sector.

Koorbanally gave an overview of major areas of research in the School – which boasts two South African Research Chairs – touching on medicinal chemistry, environmental chemistry, synthetic organic chemistry, nanotechnology, astrophysics, natural products research, catalysis, and quantum information and processing.

Robinson gave guests an overview of the history of Chemistry on the Pietermaritzburg campus, highlighting the importance of scientific collaboration, diverse teams, and of working closely with industry in the local community.

South African Research Chair for Chemistry of Indigenous Medicinal Plants Professor Fanie van Heerden gave a vote of thanks, acknowledging the contributions of all those involved in the establishment of the new facility.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Alistair Nixon