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South Africa’s nanoscience and materials research capability receives a boost

HRTEM centre

The HRTEM centre will boost South Africa’s nanoscience and materials research capabilities

25 October 2011 - A R131-million boost from government will see Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) further expand its infrastructure to meet the needs of its growing student body.

This figure will be matched by NMMU as a token of the institution’s commitment to the Department of Higher Education and Training to grow areas of national priority such as engineering and education.

The three-year roll-out of the combined R259.9 million infrastructure expansion will begin in October 2011, although work on a new building to house a suite of High Resolution Transmission Electron Microscopes (HRTEM) is now complete. The NMMU’s new centre for HRTEM, which was opened this week on the university’s South Campus, will boost South Africa’s nanoscience and materials research capabilities and will enable our participation in international nanoscience efforts.

The centre already collaborates with a number of South African industries and institutions, including Sasol, Element Six, the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (NECSA) and Mintek, and will be used to continue the cutting-edge strategic research that was initially done for the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) Company.

Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, was quoted saying that the HRTEM centre cements NMMU’s position as a pioneering research-driven institution. “It has catapulted the University to the forefront of global nanoscience research and will provide South Africa with cutting-edge capability in national priorities like clean water, energy, minerals beneficiation and manufacturing,” Nzimande said. He added that this unique facility will also be used for the training of disadvantaged students from surrounding communities, including the Walter Sisulu University, the University of Fort Hare and other universities on the African continent.

Aurecon was appointed as programme managers in 2007 to manage the whole CAPEX infrastructure development of multiple projects for the NMMU. Aurecon was consequently appointed in 2009 as the project manager and principle agent on the HRTEM building, which includes two sections – one to house the extremely sensitive microscope equipment and the other to accommodate the preparation laboratories and support staff offices. Bulk service connections, parking, stormwater provision and an enclosed link corridor to the existing physics building were included in the project.

Some of the challenges encountered on the project include:

  • New and advanced nanoscience technologies were used for the first time in Africa, which involved major coordination between the different disciplines and the project team.
  • Designers needed to investigate many design options and the coordination of design and changes had to be monitored thoroughly. A quality officer was also appointed who evaluated the design quality of the building on a regular basis.
  • The detailed planning of the project was also very critical. Clear goals regarding building functionality and performance set early in the project life cycle became extremely important during construction and especially towards the completion of the project.
  • Critical completion deadlines were set once the microscope delivery dates were set, which meant that construction and procurement progress had to be monitored and controlled regularly.
  • Consultants were required at many stages to advise and substantiate decisions made or design changes required.
  • Building specifications needed to be met with regards to vibration, acoustics and electromagnetic fields. The standard of construction was extremely high due to the sensitive microscopy equipment housed in the building.

As one of the world’s most powerful transmission electron microscopes, the HRTEM suite will enable students to analyse materials down to atomic level and is envisaged to contribute significantly to development in the areas of energy, chemical processing, minerals and advanced materials. The construction value of the project is valued at R30.5 million, while the microscope alone is valued at R90 million.

“Aurecon believes that the very future of our business relies heavily on the education and skills of our employees and accordingly, we are proud to be involved in a project of this magnitude, which prioritises education and research on a national level,” concludes Fani Xaba, Business Development Manager at Aurecon.

Image caption: Aurecon Leadership at official opening of HRTEM - Nelson Mandela Metro University
Aurecon Leadership at the official opening of HRTEM – Nelson Mandela Metro University. Back: Adriaan van Eeden (Office Manager: Aurecon Port Elizabeth), Prof Mike Lee (Department of Physics: NMMU), Fani Xaba (Business Development Manager: Aurecon), André Hefer (Project Manager: Aurecon) and Marius van Jaarsveld (Project Manager: Aurecon). Front: Prof Jakes Gerwel (Global Chairman: Aurecon).

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