UCT's Centre for Imaging and Analysis (UCT CIA)
Visualization and analysis of nanostructure is essential for progress in Science, Technology and Technology-based Industry. The University of Cape Town has a world-class visualization and analysis centre built largely around electron microscopy to serve the needs of all disciplines. The centre offers a large and versatile range of instruments and techniques serving the needs of Engineering, Biological, Earth and Physical Sciences and Medicine.
It is clearly differentiated from other such facilities in South Africa by supporting a high level capacity for the determination of the three-dimensional structures of macromolecular assemblies, generally of biological origin. It is staffed by scientific and technical officers who work closely with users at all levels from student training to project completion. The goal is to establish a centre in which scientists, engineers and medical researchers who can gain insight into their problem through visualization will be able to get the necessary support to solve their problems.
There are unique difficulties in establishing high-end electron microscopy in South Africa – although the benefits associated with using the technology are widely understood, the skills required to realize these benefits are not readily available. High end visualization equipment is exquisitely sensitive to environmental factors and needs to be housed in temperature controlled, vibration- and magnetic field free conditions. Both of these factors argue strongly for centralized, inter-disciplinary structures housed in specifically designed buildings.
Figure 1: An artist’s impression of the buildings surrounding the new facility. The Centre itself is located in a 600m2 area underneath the courtyard depicted here. The building on the left is the New Engineering building housing offices and research labs and the building on the right is an interdisciplinary teaching resources and learning centre.
Locating the centre at a major University gives students, academics and people from a wide range of industries access to a well-established international network of researchers and experts. This will facilitate and encourage widespread use of the best practice in imaging and analysis technique and will decrease the time to adoption of the latest techniques. It will also optimize utilization of the equipment and the development of young people with expertise in a wide range of skills – including sample preparation, visualization technology, analysis technology, image processing, automation and electron optics. The facility will also develop capacity in elemental analysis and minerals identification. Students will master skills that will be relevant to a wide range of industries located in different sectors spanning Earth Resource Utilization, Materials, Electronics, Energy, Health Sciences and Biotechnology, as well as encouraging students to utilize imaging and analysis and appreciate the benefits and intricacies of the technology.
Figure 2: A cut-away drawing of the level in which the centre will be housed. The actual Centre is highlighted in cyan.
Figure 3: The floor plan of the Centre. The electron microscopes will be housed within the area demarcated by the orange line which is built on a vibrationally isolated slab. The slab exceeds the most stringent specifications for vibrational isolation required by current generation electron microscopes.
The Centre provides resources in five distinctly different areas of activity, namely:
- University based research,
- University based teaching,
- Industrial microscopy and analysis,
- Training in Microscopy and
- Training in Maintenance.
Our aim is to increase our staff compliment of appropriately qualified professionals who will work as a team to expedite the access of the clients of the centre to the techniques and technology that is appropriate to the work of the client. The centre will operate in an environment in which a large number of people work synergistically on the same technology. This interaction will be channelled into novel and exciting interdisciplinary developments that would not otherwise occur.
Our goal is to build up a centre housing nine electron beam instruments with different, but possibly overlapping, capabilities. A new and important concept is that the clients will be able monitor the analysis and visualization of their samples from remote locations and even operate the instruments remotely. This will enable the Centre to serve a more geographically dispersed clientele and the effect will be similar to that achieved by synchrotrons in Europe and America in that the optimum solution is to use a shared facility rather than to spend money on "in house" equipment.