Centres of Excellence (CoEs) are physical or virtual centres of research that concentrate existing capacity and resources to enable researchers to collaborate across disciplines. They work on long-term projects that are locally relevant and internationally competitive to help enhance the pursuit of research excellence and capacity development and to build the numbers of black and women researchers in the country. The Centres are awarded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) through the National Research Foundation.

UCT hosts two of South Africa’s nine national Centres of Excellence  the Birds as Keys to Biodiversity, located in the Percy FitzPatrick Institute, and c*change, located in the Centre for Catalysis Research in the Department of Chemical Engineering.

The CoEs hosted at UCT include members from universities around South Africa. They enjoy significant student involvement and serve as important research training sites for postgraduate students. In addition to c*change, the Department of Chemical Engineering has been hosting the Hydrogen Catalysis Competence Centre since 2007. Where the CoEs focus on basic science and research, the centres of competence concentrate more on applied science, technology development and technology transfer.

UCT alsohas particularly close ties with the Applied Centre for Climate and Earth Systems(ACCESS), hosted at the CSIR. Professor George Philander of the Department of Oceanography is the Research Director there. In addition, from 2011, UCT will become a co-host for the Centre for Biomedical TB Research (CBTBR), located at the University of Stellenbosch and the University of Witwatersrand. Professor Valerie Mizrahi, the newly appointed director of the Institute for Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, will continue to play an important role in CBTBR.

DST/NRF Centre of Excellence at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology: Birds as Keys to Biodiversity Conservation

The Centre of Excellence at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute undertakes scientific studies involving birds. The Centre contributes to the theory and practice of maintaining biological diversity and the sustained use of biological resources.

In 2010, the Centre continued to achieve its targeted number and quality of scientific publications. Eighty-eight peer-reviewed papers were published in Science Citation Index (SCI) rated journals in the past year. These included 22 in journals with an SCI impact factor rating of 3.5 or higher. Six contributions to semi-technical books and 57 semi-popular articles were also published. In 2010, the Centre supported 11 postdoctoral fellows, 18 PhDs, 30 MSc, and twoBSc Honours students, of whom 30% were black and 46% were women. Eleven MSc Conservation Biology and two BSc Honours students graduated during 2010.

Following the five-year external review of the CoE in 2009, a significant activity was the approval in mid-2010 to upgrade the CoE to fully-funded status. With this, and according to recommendations of the external review, during 2010 the CoE made strategic advancements to increase its terrestrial ornithology and conservation research. Eight peer-reviewed papers on characterising biodiversity were published, along with 29 on evolutionary ecology and 51 on maintaining biodiversity.

2010 was the 50th anniversary of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology and the CoE hosted several events to enhance the profile and financial sustainability of both the Institute and the CoE. The year started with a Vice-Chancellor’s Open Lecture by Professor Norman Myers.

DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Catalysis, c*change

The DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Catalysis, c*change, is hosted by the Centre for Catalysis Research at the Department of Chemical Engineering. In 2010, the c*change team comprised 52 postgraduate students. Seventy-nine per cent were South African students, with 60% and 63% of the South African student target being female and black, respectively. In addition, c*change also comprised eight postdoctoral researchers and 24 academics from 14 research groupings in nine participating South African Higher Education Institutions. In total, 21 projects were funded during the course of 2010, of which ten were multi-institutional and/or interdisciplinary projects.

In 2010, the Centre was awarded a SARChI Research Chair, which is expected to boost the Centre’s scientific output. This Chair is located in the field of preparation and characterisation of nano-materials and will enhance various activities throughout the Centre. The holder of this Chair, who is likely to come from outside South Africa, still needs to be recruited.

Other highlights of 2010 include the Centre’s strong involvement in the successful development of teaching material for the new school Grade 12 Physical Science syllabus. The new syllabus requires learners to study the chemical industry in South Africa, with particular emphasis on the manufacture of petrochemicals and synthetic fuels, chlor-alkali derivatives, fertilisers and batteries. As such, c*change initiated the compilation of a resource pack containing a teachers’ guide, learner worksheets, videos, animations and posters. Significant external industrial sponsorship was secured to allow for the printing of 6,000 resource packs for distribution to schools country-wide.

c*change-related research outputs of the participating catalysis community in 2010 included 15 publications and 39 unpublished conference contributions. In addition, four provisional international patent applications were submitted. Ten local or international postgraduate student training initiatives were undertaken. These jointventures will help to forge closer ties in collaborative projects. c*change held its sixth annual Symposium in November 2010 in Bloemfontein.

DST Hydrogen Catalysis Competence Centre, HySA/catalysis

The DST’s National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Flagship Project – colloquially referred to as Hydrogen South Africa, or HySAwas derived from the National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Research, Development and Innovation Strategy. The national flagship project established three Competence Centres in 2007 to develop hydrogen and fuel cell catalysts and catalytic device technologies. The objective was to enhance national wealth creation by adding value to South Africa’s strategic reserves of Platinum Group Metals. UCT and Mintek co-host the Hydrogen Catalysis Competence Centre (HySA/catalysis). The first project funding was received in 2009.

Fifteen-year deliverables comprise the development of sufficient hydrogen fuel cell and fuel processor technologies and intellectual property to establish commercial manufacturing activities within South Africa, whether attracted from abroad or grown from inside the country. Other enabling deliverables of HySA/catalysis are the establishment of research, development and innovation facilities for fuel cell and fuel processor technologies through an extended hub and spoke network. The network comprises national science councils, universities and private enterprise, and the development of a significant human capital base.

A key focus during 2010 was to increase the Centre’s capacity. This culminated in the appointment of Dr Olaf Conrad as the Centre Programme Director from 1 January 2011. The HySA/catalysis technical programme focused primarily on two market-oriented key programmes, portable power and combined heat and power. In support of the above, UCT has refurbished 80 m2 in laboratory space to initiate the new HySA/catalysis fuel cell activities. This includes commissioning infrastructure equipment. Fuel processor activities have been incorporated in existing facilities and infrastructure.

The Centre is continuing its previously initiated activities at affiliated institutions. The student cohort is growing to 13 master’s-level students, one doctoral student and two postdoctoral fellows. Several training initiatives, internal with affiliated organisations, and external with international collaborators, have taken place.

In order to raise its awareness profile,HySA was launched internationally at the 18th World Hydrogen Energy Conference in Essen, Germany, with a stand in the conference exhibition hall promoting the programme and the three Competence Centres.[Add photo from exhibition, CP to add to dropbox]


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