College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Nanotechnology at the Core of UKZN’s Research Flagships

Nanotechnology at the Core of UKZN’s Research Flagships

Nanotechnology is core to UKZN’s strategic vision as it bridges all four Research Flagships, says Pro Vice-Chancellor for Big Data and Analytics at UKZN, Professor Francesco Petruccione.

Petruccione was speaking at the launch of UKZN’s fourth Nanotechnology Platform Symposium on the Westville campus where his sentiments were echoed by UKZN’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Professor Deresh Ramjugernath.

Addressing the more than 200 delegates, Ramjugernath said: ‘This Nanotechnology Symposium is core to what we are trying to do with research at UKZN. The pillars of the nanotechnology platform are inter-disciplinary, trans-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary. In adopting this approach it addresses the new strategy of the University, which is to break down traditional discipline research silos.

‘To meet the challenges outlined in our National Development Plan, we need to produce applied research and exploit the intellectual property we produce that leads to commercialisation. This symposium is ahead of its time in terms of the way it has looked at the relevance of its research and the stakeholders who need to be involved,’ said Ramjugernath.

‘I am glad to see we have such a critical mass of interdisciplinary research in nanotechnology at UKZN.’

UKZN’s Nanotechnology Platform Symposium is an annual event that brings together academics and postgraduate students from across the University’s campuses, colleges and disciplines. It provides a platform for researchers to interact on the latest advances and imminent trends in the nanotechnology field. Topics discussed ranged from fundamental nanoscience principles and research, to cutting-edge applications and development of nanotechnologies in various crucial areas such as energy, water, health, environment and advanced communication.

Two keynote addresses were presented at the symposium. Manager of the Advanced Drug Delivery Platform and Head of the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology at the University of Witwatersrand, Professor Yahya Choonara, spoke on the development of novel nano-archetypes for ovarian cancer diagnostics and therapeutics, and showed how his studies demonstrated that the two nanosystems developed were stable and versatile and could be used separately for the diagnosis (via pH-triggered super-fluorophores) and treatment (via anti-MUC 16 targeting) of ovarian cancer or other cancers associated with a similar tumour microenvironment or aberrant mucin (MUC 16) expression.

Fellow keynote speaker, Dr Kaviyarasu Kasinathan, who is a UNESCO-UNISA Academic Fellow and a member of the Materials Research Group at the iThemba LABS-NRF in Cape Town, presented on current research and future challenges in nanostructured thermoelectric materials, a potentially transformative power generation technology.

The fourth UKZN Nanotechnology Platform Symposium departed from previous years to include a number of postgraduate students and postdoctoral fellow presentations. ‘This symposium is a wonderful opportunity for students to present their findings, gain new perspectives from others, establish new collaborations and exchange ideas and insights,’ said the Head of UKZN’s Nanotechnology Platform, Professor Vincent Nyamori. He encouraged the young scientists present: ‘If you ever think you’re too small to be effective, you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito or had a small pebble in your shoe!’

Moving forward, Nyamori said the vision was to establish UKZN’s Nanotechnology Platform as a virtual Centre so as to increase collaboration and mentorship.

Words and photograph: Sally Frost