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SA-JINR Seminar: Nuclear research brings nations together

SA-JINR Seminar: Coming together over nuclear research

“As researchers, our job is to produce and disseminate knowledge - and to help others do the same so that, together, we can achieve more significant and important results than we could apart.”

So said Dr Dmitiy Kamanin, Senior Researcher at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR), speaking at the South Africa-JINR Education and Research Collaboration Workshop, held at the University of the Western Cape on 29 February and 1 March 2016. The event brought together nuclear researchers (including nuclear physicists, materials scientists, chemists and more) from some of South Africa’s top research institutions (including UWC, the Universities of Cape Town and the Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch University and iThemba LABS) to discuss ongoing and potential partnerships with JINR.

Collaboration has served JINR well - the institute has 18 official member states and six associate members (including South Africa), and has made dozens of major physics and chemistry discoveries over its 60 year existence, including the quark counting rule, the phenomenon of slow neutron confinement, and the discovery of elements 112 through 118, the heaviest elements on the periodic table (oh, and element 102 as well).  

“Science is done by big groups these days,” noted Prof Rob Lindsay, Head of UWC’s Department of Physics and Astrophysics. “It takes lots of talent, technology and other resources coming together to push the envelope at projects like CERN, the Kepler survey, and so on. That’s why we’re happy to work with JINR - we’re only just getting really involved, and there’s a lot of opportunity for the future.”

JINR actively cooperates with eight South African scientific centres and universities on ten scientific themes: Theoretical Physics; Elementary Particle Physics and Relativistic Nuclear Physics; Nuclear Physics; Condensed Matter Physics; Radiation and Radiobiological Research; Networking; Computing; Computational Physics; and the Educational Programme (where South Africa is actually the largest partner, as Dr Kamanin pointed out.

“South Africa has an effective science system,” said Danny Adams, of South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology, “but a small one - and collaborations like this help us build the human capital, infrastructure and funding necessary to get where we want to go.”

Adams pointed out that the NDP aims to increase the proportion of academics with PhDs at universities to 75% by 2030 - a vast increase from the 43% who now have doctoral degrees - and to also have 100PhDs per million South Africans by that date - which would mean graduating around 5000 PhDs per year, from 52000 PhDs enrolled in the system...and all the associated costs that would go with it.

“It’s not just about research papers and technology transfer,” he added. “It’s about building sustainable partnerships that last.”

Celebrating JINR in 2016

The workshop was organised by UWC’s Prof Leslie Petrik, head of the Environmental Nanoscience Research Group at the University, who serves on the Joint Coordinating Committee for the JINR/SA partnership and collaborates in the partnership’s Applied Nuclear programme.

Last year Prof Petrik accompanied 15 UWC students to Dubna, Russia, to attend the 4th South Africa-JINR Symposium, themed “Few to Many Body Systems-Models and Methods and Applications”.

The event marked the 10th anniversary of JINR’s collaboration with South Africa (the Department of Science and Technology signed an MoU with JINR in 2005), making it an important milestone not only for UWC (who had the largest number of student attendees), but also for South Africa as a whole.  

“This was an opportunity for them to learn about the fundamental properties of matter and nuclear technologies,” noted Prof Petrik. “And perhaps some of these students will share their research in turn during the JINR-60 celebrations this year.”

The JINR-60 celebrations - celebrating, as the name implies, the 60th anniversary of the project - will feature bilateral agreements and celebrations with partners around the world...and hopefully foster new collaboration opportunities.