Nelson Mandela University: Mandela University Physics expands its impressive research facilities

Nelson Mandela University’s Physics Department recently expanded its already comprehensive range of world-class facilities for semiconductor research and development. From synthesis to characterisation and limited device processing and testing, these facilities are unique in the country and Africa.

Access to state-of-the-art equipment (all under one roof) for research in condensed matter physics is an advantage that few, if any, other institutions on the continent can offer, says Physics Department Head Professor André Venter (left in the photo).

“Semiconductors are the heartbeat of modern technology and everyday life”, says Prof Venter. Just imagine your world without a cell phone or a personal computer or visiting your doctor without having access to diagnostic equipment such as X-rays, ultrasound, NMR and CT scan facilities.

The Department recently acquired a multi-million-rand high-resolution electrical characterisation facility. This laboratory represents a significant upgrade to the Department’s semiconductor device testing and postgraduate student training capabilities and is the result of several years of collaboration between Prof Venter, Prof Reinhard Botha (former Nanophotonics Chair-holder) (pictured right) and Prof Joachim Bollmann, formerly from the Technische Universität Bergakademie, Freiberg, Germany.

Their collaboration involved the optical and electrical characterisation of novel semiconductor materials and device structures to, among others, extend the absorption range of electromagnetic radiation, resulting in improved solar cell efficiencies. The exclusive nature of their research and the expertise at Mandela University is coupled with decades of specialisation in the field of Solid-State and Semiconductor Physics, which offers prospective students, guest researchers and industry, opportunities not available elsewhere in Africa – and all in one department.

For more than 40 years the Physics Department has provided specialised, tertiary physics education in South Africa. Skilled graduates have been employed across the world in science, engineering, and technology-related enterprises.

The Physics Department does fundamental semiconductor material development and characterisation work for ESKOM, DENEL, ARMSCOR, and several private industries. They also consult on the fundamental challenges related to the development of reliable optoelectronic devices for optical fibre communication, particle and environmental gas sensing, and solar cell technology.

Physics graduates are employed across the world in academia, materials research and related device development industries, biomedicine and biophysics, as well as in the renewable energy sector and engineering. Interestingly our students are in high demand in the banking sector, where their problem-solving skills are used in risk modelling.

Some of our own Physics Alumni work at Capco Brazil (Technology Consultant), Pro Photonix Ireland (Application Engineer), Jaguar Land Rover UK (Thermal Engineer), Incomar Aerospace and Defence Systems Pretoria (Scientist), Chrysos PhotonAssay Australia (Programme Manager) and ITyukt Digital Solutions (Software Developer and subsequently Executive Director).