Innovation is the cornerstone of all research. Great inventions and discoveries drive the world and UCT academics, students and graduates have been innovators in many disciplines over many years. From Chris Barnard’s pioneering heart transplant to Allan Cormack’s development of the CAT scanner and Aaron Klug’s contributions to crystallographic electron microscopy, UCT’s name is synonymous with some of the great innovations of our time.

UCT has had a Technology Transfer Office since 1999 and is increasingly putting measures in place to sustain and support innovators at the institution. In recent years, innovation and entrepreneurship have also been recognised by the government as strategic imperatives. The promulgation in 2010 of the Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed R&D Act and the Technology Innovation Agency Act are shifting the innovation landscape in South Africa and UCT is responding by developing a more integrated innovation framework for the university. The bottom line, says Piet Barnard: Director, Research Contracts & Intellectual Property Services, is that UCT recognises that, for the University, the economy and the nation, the importance of innovation cannot be underestimated.


Innovation at UCT is visible in many disciplines and takes many forms. From awards and the development of new products to breakthroughs in research and development, UCT’s innovation enterprise is active and healthy. Some of the highlights are showcased below.


Early in 2010 UCT’s prolific inventors Professors Margit Härting and David Britton received the Academic R&D Award at the IDTechEx Printed Electronics Europe Awards 2010. It was presented in recognition of their groundbreaking work in printed technology. They developed a process for printing electronic ink onto a substrate (the material on which an electrical circuit is built) where it works as a semi-conductor that can carry electrical charges.

Professor David Britton (second from left) and Professor Margit Härting (right), winners of the 2010 Academic R&D Award, together with students.

Innovation for public good

HIV, food security and water scarcity are three key issues affecting the sustainable and continued development of South Africa and Africa. UCT researchers have developed new technologies and vaccines that represent giant leaps in combating these issues for the continent and the world.

Africa’s own HIV vaccine

Under Professor Anna-Lise Williamson’s leadership, the Phase 1 trials of the first HIV vaccine developed at UCT have been completed. The initial immunogenicity results look promising. This means that South Africa is one of a few developing nations to have successfully created an HIV vaccine that has proceeded to human clinical trials. This is a significant milestone for HIV research and a first for Africa.  

Professor Anna-Lise Williamson, whose team is working on the first HIV vaccine to be developed in Africa.

The End of Maize Streak Virus

Supported by Pannar Ltd of South Africa, Professor Ed Rybicki and Dr Dionne Sheppard are developing second- and third-generation transgenic maize lines resistant to Maize Streak Virus.Several transformed plant lines have been successfully tested in glasshouse trials and will be soon be given trials in the field.

A technology to treat waste-water streams from mines

Arising out of his doctoral work on eutectic freeze crystallization, Dyllon Randall was awarded the prestigious Biennial Award from the Industrial Water Division of Water Institute of South Africa/South African Industrial Water Association. The award recognises his outstanding contribution to industrial water technology. His work is also likely to contribute to the profits and positive environmental impact of the mining industry — a key player in the South African economy. The research focuses on the technology used to treat mine-water waste by taking waste water and cooling it down until ice and salt form at the same time. With a particular focus on the waste water generated by the coal-mining industry, the technology demonstrates a waste-water reduction of 97% and leads to the production of potable water.

New products blaze a trail

UCT’s intellectual property carries enormous academic and commercial weight. UCT researchers have developed various products that have been shown to be commercially viable. Some were launched to the commercial market in 2010.

DSM South Africa (Pty) Ltd launched PeptoSport®, a new sports nutrition product based on a formulation developed by Associate Professor Andrew Bosch, University of Cape Town/Medical Research Council Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine. The product reduces the onset of muscle pain in the calves and quadriceps during periods of high training load. It is also intended to increase the endurance of sportsmen during training.

The result of a Sasol-UCT collaboration, the world’s first in-situ Magnetometer is ready to be launched to the market. The instrument has generated groundbreaking results for Sasol’s proprietary research and development programme in cobalt metal-based Fischer-Tropsch catalysis. The instrument also has wider applications. It is a generic tool for the characterisation of nanoparticles in diverse fields such as novel magnetic materials for water treatment, metal extraction, nano magnets and recording devices. It has been wellreceived internationally: along with the work of world leaders in in-situ research, it was selected to feature in a prestigious journal special edition.

Student inventors shine

UCT student inventors have also done the university proud. Two of three UCT entries to the 2010 National Innovation Competition were placed in the top ten finalists. Dr Sipho Mfolozi of UCT's Division of Forensic Medicine was placed second for his invention of the “NecroChronometer”that helps forensic pathologists determine a body's time of death. The second top-ten placement was DryBath™. Invented by Ludwick Marishane of the student company Headboy Industries, DryBath™ is a creative substitute for the conventional bath and addresses the problem of access to water for homeless people, refugees and hikers – or anyone living in a water-scarce environment.

Pre-seed fund projects

Some UCT projects have attracted interest from institutional and government funding sources. This reinforces the credibility of the research and development and the dedication of the researchers.

In a project led by Professor Keertan Dheda, a prototype TB test was successfully demonstrated and there are plans to further develop the intellectual property. Prototype development is nearing completion and a spin-off company, Antrum Biotech (Pty) Ltd, has successfully attractedfunding from the Department of Trade and Industry’s SPII to pursue the next stage. More significant funding is also being raised to take the product to market.

Professor Mike Inggs and his team have developed a passive radar system. Discussions have started with a commercial partner keen to pursue the next phase of development. This low-cost radar will greatly improve the level of aircraft monitoring across the continent and will be ideal for implementation in South Africa and other African countries.

Established under the leadership of Kurt Campbell at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, the first Concept Fund project was completed. A font foundry developed three font sets, learning a great deal about the commercialisation of fonts along the way. One of these fonts has been licensed for use by an emerging UCT spin-off and another was submitted in the final round for use in a poster in Germany.There has been considerable interest in these Afrocentric fonts that draw on our heritage. Additional fonts will be developed in due course.

Professor Keertan Dheda, who has developed a TB test strip.


Professor Ed Rybicki, UCT's top inventor in 2010, with recent publications available from the Research Contracts
and Property Services office.
Table 1: Top Ten UCT Inventors, as measured by the number of patents granted

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