Photonics initiative in South Africa gains momentum

September 3, 2008--A photonics initiative in South Africa, supported by the country's Department of Science and Technology (Pretoria), has been established.

September 3, 2008--A photonics initiative in South Africa, supported by the country's Department of Science and Technology (Pretoria), has been established. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) National Laser Centre and the Laser Research Institute at Stellenbosch University (Stellenbosch, S.A.) are currently driving the project, titled the South African Photonics Initiative (PISA). It aims to stimulate multidisciplinary research, as well as create economic benefits for South Africa via photonics. Thulani Dlamini, interim CSIR group executive for R&D, is leading the CSIR's involvement in the initiative.

A workshop on a national photonics strategy for South Africa was held in Johannesburg on August 5 and 6, 2008. Due to the multidisciplinary nature of photonics, the workshop drew input from a diverse range of stakeholders, and as such was attended by representatives from various industries and tertiary education institutions active in the field, government officials, and international speakers.

At the workshop a South African photonics cluster was created, to be led by the photonics industry. The cluster will boost networking between the photonics industry and photonics research institutions. Its activities will be coordinated by a board with Kobus Viljoen, the managing director of Carl Zeiss Optronics, as the cluster chairperson. Given the serious shortage of photonics technicians and artisans in South Africa, one of the first projects will be the development of a photonics technician course. A task team, made up of academia and industry representatives, was created to develop a curriculum for photonics technicians in line with South Africa's industry requirements.

The workshop kicked off with presentations from three international experts in the field of photonics: Reinhart Poprawe, managing director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (Aachen, Germany); Fernando Mendoza Santoyo, director-general of the Centro de Investigaciones en Óptica (Leon, Mexico); and Robert Breault from the Breault Research Organization (Tucson, AZ).

Mendoza explained how the photonics industry in Mexico is, in many ways, similar to that of South Africa and that they are developing a similar strategy. "Ultimately it is about making a social impact," he said. "This work must assist in providing a better life for people, and this is what we are trying to achieve."

Breault, who made the last presentation, is the father of the cluster concept and is also the chairman of the Arizona Photonics Cluster. He has been involved in the establishment of various photonics clusters from Tucson to Korea and Australia, among others.

Current laser research topics at the CSIR include novel laser sources, ultrashort physics spectroscopy, mathematical optics, biophotonics, and laser materials processing.

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