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Laser center unites African research

25 Nov 2003

African nations are to benefit from a network of excellence that promotes collaboration between research centers.

Laser researchers across Africa are set to benefit from the newly set-up African Laser Centre (ALC) in Johannesburg, South Africa. Established by a group of countries with an interest in laser applications, ALC’s vision is to “boost Africa into the forefront of science and technology.”

The ALC is a virtual center that aims to promote collaboration among laser researchers throughout Africa. “The ALC will be a body that oversees and pulls laser research in Africa together, co-ordinating research and funding for projects,” explained Henry Tromp of the ALC. “There is also a component that will look into the establishment of state-of-the-art facilities.”

Administrators of the ALC hope that, in the long run, it will attract researchers back to Africa. They also hope that research carried out at the center will improve the quality of life of African citizens. This includes developing laser technology for treating cataracts or glaucoma or even monitoring pollutants using laser induced-fluorescence to determine stress level in plants, which could help improve crop harvests.

Another important role for the ALC is commercialization of technology, although Tromp admits this is a long-term goal. Other ALC activities will include conferences, workshops and schools programmes. It will also give members access to laser systems and help institutions purchase their own equipment.

Six institutes in Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Senegal, Tunisia and South Africa with specialities ranging from materials processing to biophotonics have already signed up to the center. The list – see below - includes Egypt’s National Institute of Laser Enhanced Science (NILES).

“NILES is one of Africa’s major laser research centers with well established research capabilities and infrastructure,” Tromp told Optics.org. “It will be used as training facilities for researchers and NILES researchers will participate in technology-transfer programs. This won’t be unique to NILES, but will be the basis of co-operation between all the centers in the ALC.”

Despite its infancy, the ALC has already set-up its first technology-transfer project – which will see laser-fluorescence technology developed in Ghana transferred to South Africa.

Tromp adds that the initial work will also include marketing the ALC to appropriate funding agencies and repairing laser equipment at the various institutes. “The South African government’s Department of Science and Technology has committed ZAR 1 million ($ 152 000) towards the establishment of the ALC,” he said. “The National Laser Centre in South Africa has also made resources available.”

Universities and research groups on the continent that are part of the ALC include:

•  National Laser Centre in Pretoria, South Africa;
•  University of Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, Senegal;
•  Laser and Fibre Optics Centre, in Cape Coast, Ghana;
•  National Institute of Laser Enhanced Science in Cairo, Egypt;
•  Tunis el Manar University in Tunis, Tunisia;
•  Advanced Technologies Development Centre in Algiers, Algeria.

Jacqueline Hewett is news reporter on Optics.org and Opto & Laser Europe magazine.

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