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22 January 2019
Five (More) Amazing UWC Technologies That Make The World A Better Place

(Published - 22 January 2019)

Universities are places of teaching and learning. They’re places of molding young minds to lead into the future.- and at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), we believe that the future belongs to everyone.

That’s why many of UWC’s most interesting innovations are aimed at impacting poor, disadvantaged communities - improving the way people live, learn and communicate. Here are just five of those world-changing innovations.

1. Solving Sexual Assault Crimes - DNA Forensics Lab Kit: South Africa has among the highest incidents of sexual assault per capita in the world. To help address this, UWC’s DNA Forensic Laboratory and inqaba biotec™ launched a revolutionary DNA profiling system which could prove invaluable in investigations. Launched late 2018, the kit - known as UniQ-TyperTM Y-10 - targets DNA on the Y-Chromosome, only carried by men. UniQ-TyperTM Y-10 gives law enforcement agencies across the continent the ability to uniquely identify the perpetrators of crimes such as rape, but the kit also finds application in familial studies. The announcement of the successful completion of the alpha prototype testing brings the hope of justice for thousands of rape victims a step closer.
2. Access For All - Zenzeleni, SA’s First Co-Op-Owned ISP: Data must fall, as the saying goes - especially in rural South Africa where infrastructure is scarce and mobile networks can be prohibitively expensive. The Zenzeleni mesh network - a joint project between UWC’s Bridging Applications Network Group (BANG) and the community of rural Mankosi - enables connectivity through low-cost internet and voice calls in rural areas. The network covers 30km2 and is made up of a dozen routers running open-source firmware and software. The entire system is powered by solar panels installed on the roofs of the host homes.
3. Developing Better Medication - Computer Aided Drug Design: Drug resistance in bacteria is a growing problem across the world - even combination drug therapy is becoming inadequate. But the drug discovery process can take 10 to 15 years with standard drug testing methods. Luckily, computer-aided drug design (CADD) can speed up research, simulating work in the laboratory by evaluating thousands of molecular options. UWC explores both a structure-based method (South African National Bioinformatics Institute) and a ligand-based (School of Pharmacy) approach to simulate drug-receptor interactions.The result? Quicker, more efficient exploration of drugs to treat malaria, tuberculosis and cancer - and ultimately, more effective medicines with fewer side effects.
4. Health Education For Kids - SANBI’s Multimedia Education: Biosciences and health sciences are advancing quickly, with new technologies and techniques invented every day. But how to help ordinary people - and especially children - understand topics such as DNA, biobanks and diseases? SANBI’s speaking book, Biobanking and Me, communicates these concepts to children through informative text, colourful illustrations and bilingual audio (English-Xhosa and English-Afrikaans versions of the book are available). UWC has also developed a “How to be a Health Activist” Lifeskills Resources Kit - a workbook and DVD that contains stories, games, puzzles, videos and more, and helps learners understand such matters and how to manage depression, stress, health and fitness.
5. Powering the Future - Energy Storage Innovations: With the ongoing strain on South Africa’s electricity grid, and the growing use of renewable energy to mitigate climate change, there is a clear need for reliable and cost-effective energy storage solutions. Lithium ion batteries might provide a solution. Most of us make use of these rechargeable batteries practically every day. When well looked after, they can be drained and charged literally thousands of times - one reason they’re used in power tools, toys, electric bikes, laptops and cellular phones. There’s only one facility on the African continent that has the capability to produce Li-ion battery cells at pilot scale: UWC’s Energy Storage Innovation Lab (ESIL).

And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg - UWC also excels at hydrogen power, fixing acid mine drainage, and developing communications solutions for the deaf - and much, much more. Want to know about more of UWC’s innovations? Check this out.