The NICs are part of the ten-year innovation plan, using nanotechnology to address social and economic challenges in South Africa, and ensure that the country remains competitive with the international research community in this fast-developing field of science.
"The centres will provide a dedicated platform for nanotechnology innovation, and their mandate is to focus on the research that has pre-identified and tangible measurables. They must work together to share both infrastructure and information, to ensure expeditious delivery by this technology," said Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena at the launch of the centres.
"Research conducted at these centres should help develop, for example, low-cost filters to provide clean drinking water, primary health care through the development of medical devices, drugs to detect and treat diseases more effectively, and ensure provision of clean, secure and affordable energy," added Mangena.
The CSIR centre, The National Centre for Nano-structured Materials, will focus on the design and modelling of novel nano-structured materials.
In its first three years it will have research projects in the fabrication of selected new nano-structured materials for application in solar cells, printed electronic devices, bio-sensors, and nano-polymers, synthesis and characterisation of quantum dots with application in medical sensors, solid state lighting and optical devices, synthesis of polymer nano-composites for various applications, synthesis of nano-structured materials for specific energy related applications, as well as materials modelling and simulation with the aim of understanding and predicting the fundamental properties of nano-materials.
The inception of the Mintek centre was guided by collaboration, and tackles multi-disciplinary research, in the sectors of health, water, and mining and minerals. The Mintek centre is a consortium, which consists of the DST, the Medical Research Council, the Water Research Commission, Rhodes University (RU), the University of the Western Cape (UWC), and the University of Johannesburg (UJ).
RU aims to field-test a nanotechnology-based prototype electrochemical device that can be economically fabricated, for use in the early detection of disease and toxins.
UWC seeks to develop high performance biomolecular functionalised nanostructures for point-of-care diagnostics and targeted drug delivery, so as to identify diseases in their early stages, and target the diseased cell or pathogen and destroy the specific cell without toxic side-effects or damage to unaffected cells around the site of the disease.
UJ looks to develop nanotechnology-based solutions to detect and destroy pollutants and pathogens in water.
Nano-technology is technology one-billionth of a metre, it is the technology of an atom, which potentially holds the key to new materials, which could impact and improve the quality of life of South Africans, as well as leveraging the country's competitiveness to a global level.
Independent research firm, Lux Research, has indicated that by 2014, $2,6-trillion in manufactured goods will incorporate nanotechnology.