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7 March 2023
Tastes of Nuclear Physics returns to UWC
The 11th edition of the Tastes of Nuclear Physics is back at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) in a hybrid format from 22 to 24 March 2023. 

During the pandemic, the event was held online with over 600 participants, and was commended by the international physics community, including Physics World and Nature Physics.  

This year Tastes of Nuclear Physics celebrates the commissioning of the Modern African Nuclear DEtector LAboratories (MANDELAB) at UWC and the University of Zululand (UZ), a project funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) in the UK and led by the University of York, UZ, and UWC. 

The project’s aim is to secure state-of-the-art nuclear training for a new generation of students at two historically disadvantaged institutions with modern research capabilities and technology-transfer exchange programmes. 

The event centres around the research undertaken in the labs, which involves cancer imaging using high-resolution imaging technology and may allow the precise and early localisation of cancer. This new approach is based on quantum entanglement and uses inexpensive plastic scintillators, which substantially reduce the cost of cancer imaging stations as compared to current technologies. Other research involves underground radiation in industrial areas and new ancillary detectors to be coupled with the GAMKA spectrometer and elsewhere. Patents will be pursued upon the realisation of the projects.  

Keynote speakers at this year’s event include world leaders in Quantum Computers, Francesco Petruccione (NITheCS) in Nuclear Applications, David Jenkins (York) and Magdalena Kowalska (CERN), and experts in Machine Learning, Morten Hjorth-Jensen (Oslo/MSU), Japie Greeff (NWU) and Michelle Lochner (UWC). This year, Tastes is sponsored by STFC, York, UWC, UZ, and the National Institute for Theoretical and Computational Studies (NITheCS).

More than 20 students and young staff from UWC and UZ recently participated in intense training with particle detectors and high-demanding computer simulations in state-of-the-art research facilities at the University of York. 

They were trained to build various detectors using chemical compounds CsI, Lutetium-yttrium oxyorthosilicate (Lyso), a hard crystal called BGO and plastic scintillators coupled to modern silicon photomultipliers (SiPM). 

Measurements involved the decay time of various crystals, energy resolution as a function of shaping time and bias voltage, signal integration and differentiation and timing of the signals and activities of unknown sources (rock samples and smoked detector). They used CERN-based data analysis tools such as ROOT and also used a CAEN digitizer (slow and fast) to perform trapezoid filtering, adjusting signal shaping parameters while performing energy calibration and efficiency measurements of high-purity germanium (HPGe) detectors.  HPGe is the only radiation detection technology - as for GAMKA, which provides accurate information to identify radionuclides from their passive gamma-ray emissions reliably.


Nuclear physicist and UWC Professor Nico Orce said: “We have commissioned the labs at UWC and UZ, and we have some considerations and fine-tuning to do as we continue to build up the labs with state-of-the-art equipment and expertise”. 

“We have equipped the labs with the idea to make a real impact in our society. Whether we can get the job done remains to be seen. It’s not the first time we’ve done some “impossibles”, but it’s only through painstaking effort and significant scientific contributions that we can actually achieve our goals,” he added.

Let’s not forget that MANDELAB has been a major enterprise that couldn’t have happened without the tireless contributions of UWC’s overall involvement and internal partnerships with the Physics & Astronomy, Finance, Procurement, Legal, Institutional Advancement, Media & Communications, International Relations, Human Resources, Research & Innovation, Faculty of Sciences and Rectorate. 
Thank you, everyone. Someone said “It always seems impossible until it’s done!” 
UWC and UZ students have been part of intense training with particle detectors and GEANT simulations at the University of York.


MANDELAB is fully operational at UWC and UZ and equipped with the fastest data acquisition systems worldwide (DT5742 from CAEN with a sampling frequency of 5 GHz and XIA PIXIE-16 modules with 250 MHz), vacuum chambers, 3D printers, analogue electronics, gamma-ray and particle detectors; all in new refurbished laboratories with high-speed internet and high-performing computers.

New funds have been approved after the successful commissioning of both labs at UZ and UWC. More information about the MANDELAB project can be found here: