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4 April 2022
Official launch of the MANDELA project at UWC & UniZulu in collaboration with University of York

Collaborations between tertiary institutions are not unheard of in this day and age, but less often do we find that these partnerships withstand the winds of change. One such a collaboration saw the official opening of the Modern African Nuclear DEtector LAboratories (MANDELA) through amazing partnerships and great initiatives with and between the University of the Western Cape (UWC), University of Zululand (UniZulu) and the University of York in the United Kingdom.

The launch of the state-of-the-art facilities testifies to the tremendous strides that tertiary institutions like UWC and UniZulu have made, and while being previously disadvantaged universities, these laboratories show what can be done at universities like UWC and UniZulu if given the right resources.

These labs, based at UWC and UniZulu, were funded and supported by the Global Challenges Research Fund through the partnership of these three universities and the British Council based in South Africa. They were officially launched on 24 March 2022, with delegates both in physical attendance and tuned in online. 

"Congratulations to all those involved in making the MANDELA project a realisation, especially those at UWC and UniZulu and our friends at the University of York and the British Council," said Prof Tyrone Pretorius, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape. "I would like to also thank all the professors in the nuclear and astrophysics faculties, especially Professor Nico Orce."

The MANDELA project will allow under- and postgraduate physics students to conduct valuable research in their respective fields. Professor Nico Orce from the Department of Physics & Astronomy at UWC elaborated on the capabilities of these laboratories, which will now allow for new research and postgraduate projects that were previously practically impossible to conduct.

"Every machine and piece of equipment that has been used in the MANDELA project, with 600 financial operations involved at both UWC and UniZulu labs, are state-of-the-art, and the speed at which data is processed and compiled is among the fastest in the world. Speeds required to produce high-definition cancer imaging," confirmed Professor Orce during a demonstration from within the UWC site.

The UniZulu delegation were part of the key stakeholders that could not attend the event in person. Professor Sifiso Ntshangase from the Department of Physics, University of Zululand, expressed his gratitude to all those who made it possible and highlighted the key practical and societal benefits the MANDELA project holds for local communities.

"We are grateful to the University of York for the advanced special training they gave to our postgraduate students," said Professor Ntshangase, whose message was relayed via video conference. "Our students have benefited immensely from this project and leave a significant legacy at UniZulu, where we can now carry out PhD projects. Our special thanks go to the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC) for the funding, without which this would have not been possible. Lastly, I would like to thank the University of Zululand management, and collaborators from UWC led by Prof Orce and from the University of York led by Prof Jenkins, for the overwhelming support they gave to this project.”

“I am excited about the success of the MANDELA project to set up two detector development laboratories at the University of the Western Cape and University of Zululand," said Professor David Jenkins from the Department of Physics, University of York. "It has been even more impressive given how it has been affected by the COVID pandemic. My colleagues, Nico Orce at UWC and Sifiso Ntshangase at UniZulu, have shown remarkable resilience and persistence in following through on the aims of this UK-led Global Challenge project. Everyone involved, especially the young people and students, should be very proud of what they have achieved in such difficult circumstances."

Ms Meekness Lunga, the Science and Higher Education Programme Manager for the British Council here in Cape Town, expressed her excitement at the realisation of the project: "The British Council and all our partners under the UK in South Africa umbrella are pleased to witness the successful completion of this ground-breaking GCRF-funded collaboration between the University of York, UWC and UniZulu. The positive impact this collaboration has made on the next generation of African researchers and African science in general is beyond remarkable. It has yielded significant scientific outcomes with clear real-world application.

"It has been nothing short of humbling to witness all that has been achieved through this collaboration today, especially the innovative Mandela Lab."