The successful installation of a R13-million ISO 3 cleanroom and BSL3 laboratory at national mineral research organisation Mintek was proof that the Department of Science and Technology’s (DST’s) ongoing investment in national research projects was bearing fruit, said Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor at the facility’s unveiling, which took place in April at Mintek’s Nanotechnology Innovation Centre (NIC).
The facilities were installed by international consulting and engineering company Royal HaskoningDHV, after they were commissioned by the DST in December last year.
“Such facilities play an important role, in not only helping us solve pertinent social issues but also developing young minds and helping [to equip] our researchers with the skills they need for their work,” said Pandor.
The facility was designed to enable the DST, the NIC and South Africa’s researchers to develop and fabricate nanotechnology-based diagnostic devices and tools for application in the health sector, and for the containment of biological reagents.
The centre will also produce nanotechnology-based devices and systems that meet the standards of International Organisation for Standardisation diagnostic kits. This makes it possible for the NIC to follow good manufacturing practice guidelines and to comply with pharmaceutical inspection conventions and cooperation schemes.
The facility will also allow for the rapid development and production of diagnostic devices that can diagnose illnesses, such as malaria, in their early stages.
“Early diagnosis and subsequent treatment is a crucial lifesaver for those afflicted, [which is why this] is a major step forward in disease control for the country,” says Royal HaskoningDHV specialised cleanrooms division project manager and mechanical engineer Walter van der Linde.
He explains that the contract entailed the design and site supervision of the ISO 3 cleanroom, the BSL 3 laboratory and the manufacturing lab for rapid diagnostic devices, including all mechanical, electrical, lab-layout and structural services.
The electrical services portion of the contract included the provision of lighting, electrical reticulation to support the mechanical equipment, switched socket outlets and power supply to general lab equipment.
The mechanical services included the provision of an environmental control system, unidirectional airflow, an autoclave, an effluent system, a fumig- ation pass-through hatch, wet and gas services, and biosafety cabinets.
Royal HaskoningDHV’s cleanrooms team was also responsible for the lab layout, and specifying the partitioning type and shell of the cleanrooms and biosafety laboratory, says Van der Linde.
Pandor emphasised government’s commitment to continue supporting research in the public and private sectors.
She said projects, such as the Square Kilometre Array – a radio telescope project cohosted by South Africa and Australia, with a total collecting area of 1 km2 – had been positive for South Africa, as there was growing interest from international research organisations.
Pandor added that government was also pleased with the work being done by the Human Sciences Research Council to promote research and development across all sectors and to help develop and support researchers.
“I like the blue-sky researcher who occupies [his/her] mind with making discoveries and solving problems that ordinary people never think about. “I support such people, but the end result must enable us to solve our social problems,” said Pandor.