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IAEA, South Africa’s iThemba Labs to work together in advancing accelerator-based science


iThemba LABS is Africa’s leading research facility for accelerator-based science and provides state of the art facilities and programmes for high-quality research, training and service in this field.  (Photo: iThemba Labs)

The IAEA and South Africa’s Laboratory for Accelerator Based Sciences, iThemba LABS, have agreed to carry out joint work on promoting and strengthening the use of accelerator-based science, technology and applications.

Established in 1964, iThemba LABS is Africa’s leading research facility for accelerator-based science, with a total of six operational accelerators, and provides state of the art facilities and programmes for high quality research, training and service in this field.

Accelerators use electromagnetic fields to speed up charged particles and to focus them in beams before they impinge on selected materials to either analyse or modify their surface, composition, structure and other properties. Due to their unique analytical capabilities, particle accelerators play a key role not only in conducting fundamental research but also in solving problems of modern society related to environmental monitoring, climate change, water and air quality, forensics, cultural heritage, agriculture, development of advanced materials for energy production via fission or fusion and many other fields. Accelerators are also employed to produce radioisotopes for cancer diagnosis and treatment supporting in this way decisively healthcare systems. Particle accelerators of different sizes are also employed in a variety of industrial applications.

The IAEA and iThemba have a long-standing cooperation in advancing accelerator-based science and technology and providing training and education opportunities for scientists and researchers. With the new agreement, iThemba LABS will remain an IAEA Collaborating Centre until 2025, and the two organizations will work towards further enhancing the use of accelerator-based nuclear techniques by providing capacity building activities, specialized irradiation and analytical services, and trainings for researchers to build the future scientific leadership in Africa. The two organizations will also carry out joint research in the use of accelerators in a wide range of areas, including climate change research, fusion, environmental monitoring and nutrition.

“By spreading expertise and know-how in accelerator science and technology, we ensure that our Member States have the right knowledge and the tools to address critical development challenges,” said Najat Mokhtar, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications.

“As a developing country, South Africa knows the value of using nuclear and nuclear-derived techniques and applications for our development,” said Ambassador Rapulane Molekane, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations and International Organisations in Vienna. “South Africa is working hard to change the narrative around the use of nuclear for peaceful uses. Having the largest multidisciplinary national research facility in South Africa designated as an IAEA Collaborating Centre is a step in the right direction.”

As an IAEA Collaborating Centre, iThemba LABS will work towards contributing to the IAEA’s mission by providing analytical services to all African Member States. In this way, the local economies will be decisively supported in performing quality controls of various products from agriculture, mining, building and construction industry and, for some countries, fishery.

Moreover, the designation of iThemba LABS as an IAEA Collaborating Center is aimed at establishing a regional scientific hub to untangle long-standing regional problems related to environmental issues resulting, for example from pollution of river and see waters and from the steadily increasing industrialization of the African continent in general. Solving such problems in the future requires training of young researchers and technical personnel, a goal iThemba LABS and the IAEA will work together towards achieving.

“As a research facility, iThemba LABS is instrumental in advising and helping the operation of small accelerators in African countries, such as Ghana, Algeria, Egypt and Nigeria, and in training a cohort of African scientists in the domain of accelerator-based research,” said Faical Azaiez, Director of iThemba LABS.

“Through our partnership with the IAEA, we will further strengthen the use of accelerator-based science and technology to help African countries meet their socio-economic development targets,” added Clifford Nxomani, Deputy CEO of South Africa’s National Research Foundation.

The IAEA supports countries in strengthening their capabilities in accelerator sciences and applications by supporting accelerator-based research, infrastructure projects and education programmes. In addition, the IAEA offers research platforms and networking opportunities for countries to exchange information on new trends and applications in accelerator-based nuclear science and technology. The IAEA’s Accelerator Knowledge Portal offers extensive information on many of the over 20,000 particle accelerators in operation around the world.

The IAEA is also organizing its first International Conference on Accelerators for Research and Sustainable Development from 23 to 27 May 2022 in Vienna, Austria. The conference will bring together scientists, accelerator engineers, operators and users, policy makers, regulators, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders to discuss key scientific and technological advancements in accelerator-based research and technology development. Interested contributors have until 19 November 2021 to submit abstracts for this conference.

Virtual ceremony for the designation of iThemba as an IAEA Collaborating Centre on 9 November 2021. (Photo: A.Tarhi/IAEA)

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