On 29 January this year, budding entrepreneurs from across Africa gathered at the British University in Egypt for a UNESCO bootcamp which introduced them to the finer points of nanotechnology, among other special activities.
The 37 women and 34 men hailed from Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia. Twenty-two of them travelled to Cairo for the bootcamp, while the remainder participated virtually.
UNESCO had selected 12 teams for the course from a total of 29 online applications for the quality of their background, experience and ideas.
Most successful applicants were Master’s or PhD students, or young researchers who had studied nanotechnology or related fields, such as biotechnology, chemistry, environmental science and engineering, energy, agronomy or physics. Four had a business background. All harboured a strong desire to create their own nanotech company.
We owe the word ‘nanotechnology’ to Japanese scientist Norio Taniguchi, who coined the term in 1974 to describe engineering on a scale smaller than one micrometre (one-millionth of a metre). There are obvious advantages to being able to manufacture microscopic components. Nanotechnology allows us to miniaturize devices and structures, which can make manufactured products lighter, stronger and more flexible. Today’s smartphones would never have been possible without miniaturization.
A crash course in industrial nanotech, business and intellectual property
The bootcamp programme was broken down into three courses. The first focused on industrial applications of nanotechnology. It was introduced by Dr Amal Kasry, the UNESCO specialist in nanotechnology who had organized the bootcamp. She explained the importance of bootcamps such as these for UNESCO’s mandate of building capacity in basic sciences and engineering to support countries’ transition to sustainable development.
The course on industrial applications of nanotechnology was followed by a business course then a course on intellectual property protection. Each course comprised several sessions.
To kick off the first course, Amal Kasry invited assembled company founders and directors to share concrete examples of how they had applied nanotechnology to product development.
Professor Askwar Hilonga, Co-founder of the Gongali Model, described how his company had used nanotechnology to create low-cost water filters in Tanzania.
Dr Sabelo Mhlanga, Managing Director and CEO of SabiNano (Pty) Ltd in South Africa, presented various carbon-based nanomaterials manufactured by his company.
Dr Mohamed Taha, Co-founder and Executive Director of Nano Gate in Egypt, stressed the need to tailor a product to demand; his company offers nanomaterials to researchers in small quantities (grams) and in larger quantities to small and large industries.
Dr Steven Mufamadi presented different applications of nanomedicine, based on his experience as Founder and Managing Director of Nabio Consulting in South Africa.
He was followed by Professor Malik Maaza, UNESCO Research Chair in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology at the University of South Africa. He and three of his postdoctoral students introduced their respective patents in nanotechnology.
Tours of a nanotech lab
The trainees were then treated to a visit of the facilities and equipment for nanotechnology available at the British University in Egypt and Pennsylvania State University in the USA. The aim was to familiarize them with the sophisticated equipment available to some universities. Young African researchers who have limited access to this type of equipment may be unaware of its potential. This blind spot can inhibit their ideas for product development.
By necessity, the visit of the nanotechnology laboratory at Pennsylvania State University was virtual; it was conducted by Prof. Osama Awadelkarim, UNESCO Chair on Building Innovation and Manufacturing Capacities through Advanced Technology Education at this university.
For the visit of the laboratories at the British University in Egypt’s Nanotechnology Research Centre, it was Professor Hassan Nageh who did the honours, assisted by his colleagues.
This post was culled from UNESCO website.