UB embarks on research program with Zimbabwe

On October 16, 2012

UB is breaking outside of Western New York's borders. Its next destination: Zimbabwe.

UB is teaming up with two universities in Zimbabwe to create an international research program. UB's Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics and the New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences have signed on to create the Zimbabwe International Nanotechnology Center (ZINC). The University of Zimbabwe (UZ) will research ways to prevent diseases that plague the country and Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT) will research energy. The program will launch in March 2013.

ZINC will further research in nanotechnology, as well as help students in Zimbabwe.

"One of our main missions is to educate and train the students in an underdeveloped country, like Zimbabwe, that really needs our help," said Paras Prasad, a director of ZINC. "I consider the African continent with its vast resources as an emerging frontier. We need to help them build an infrastructure in education from the undergraduate level to graduate level."

The directors of the program are: Prasad, a distinguished professor in chemistry, physics, electrical engineering and medicine and the executive director of the Institute of Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics; Gene Morse, a UB pharmacy professor and the associate director of the Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences (COE); and Alexander Cartwright, the UB vice president of research and economic development and the executive director of COE.

ZINC will establish a long-term international research and training platform in the field of nanotechnology - a faction of science that studies how things behave on a molecular level.

"It is focused in areas that promote Zimbabwe's strength and advance the development of nanotechnology as an avenue for Zimbabwe's commercial growth," Morse said.

The initiative at UZ will deal mostly with nanomedicine - the application of nanotechnology to prevent and/or treat disease. The research at CUT will mainly focus on nanotech applications in harvesting and storing solar energy.

Morse and Prasad will be co-directing the nanomedicine initiative at UZ and Cartwright will direct the energy research at CUT.

Prasad believes showing the community in Zimbabwe the "tangible difference" ZINC can make is enough to inspire students to pursue a career in the field of nanotechnology.

"I envision [myself] giving nanotechnology lectures to high school students to inspire them and teach them that these are new directions with high societal impact," Prasad said. "That inspiration is a key part of education."

In addition to creating a nanotechnology hub in the middle of Africa, UB will gain a lot from the ZINC program, according to the programs' directors.

With the help of an international program, Morse hopes to form unique partnerships with pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology firms. This will enhance the likelihood of economic success through "efficient, innovative research."

Cartwright, who has years of research experience at UB, is happy to see UB's research prowess in nanotechnology on display internationally.

"In addition to my own research interests, this program builds on UB's strengths in nanomaterials and showcases UB's research on a global scale," Cartwright said. "This will be a great opportunity for UB students to participate in a bidirectional international research and education program."

Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president, views nanotechnology as a national priority, with the support from the government, Prasad said.

Morse and Prasad see ZINC as a unique opportunity to use the research at UZ to help find a way to fight prevalent diseases, like tuberculosis, malaria, HIV and even cancer.

"It's a great recognition that [Zimbabwe] chose UB to be their partner," Prasad said. "We have a lot to offer to them from education to our long track record with international education. We place a strong emphasis in building bridges with international communities."

Prasad is proud Zimbabwe sees UB as a viable teacher to train and educate researchers.

He stresses the importance of UB's role in ZINC to educate and train; once researchers are trained in the field of nanotechnology, ZINC will be able to become a self-sustaining research facility and continue to train future nanotechnologists independently.

Email: news@ubspectrum.com

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