Nanotechnology Platform


The Nanomaterials pillar of the UKZN Nanotechnology Platform is a grouping of research scientists with a common interest in synthesizing nanomaterials for application in a wide variety of possible uses.

Prof Bice Martincigh

Prof Bice Martincigh

Pillar Leader | Nanomaterial

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The current project of the group entails the preparation of nanocellulose. This is to be combined with a strong material or polymer for casting into a film. The film can then be used to manufacture a device such as a capacitor, solar cell, etc.

Cellulose, one of the most versatile and widely found biopolymers in nature, has been used by humans for millennia as a building material, an energy source, a component of clothing and for storing and sharing knowledge and culture. Today, cellulose materials are used in a wide range of applications, and the paper and pulp industry constitutes a significant share of the economic output in many countries, including South Africa. One recent strong trend is to focus on the isolation of fibrils and whiskers of cellulose with diameters in the nanometer range and to utilize their enhanced properties to develop novel cellulose-based materials with diverse advanced functionalities. 

Various forms of such nanocellulose can be produced by different routes and from a variety of cellulose sources.The interest in nanocellulose stems from the fact that this material has very interesting properties that are quite unlike those of normal cellulose. Nanocellulose features an attractive combination of properties such as biocompatibility, a high elastic modulus (similar to steel), a low thermal expansion coefficient, optical transparency and anisotropy, negative diamagnetic anisotropy and flexible surface chemistry, making it of interest in applications such as composites, security papers, wound dressings and medical implants.

In countries with well-developed forest product industries like ours, such as Canada and Finland, there are already a number of start-up companies that make nanocellulose in the order of 500 – 1 000 kg/day in pilot plant settings. South Africa, through Sappi and divisions of the CSIR, does have research expertise in chemical cellulose (dissolving pulp), but mainly for application in viscose, lyocell, acetate, ethers and cellophane production. Sappi is the largest producer of chemical cellulose and all of Sappi’s local product is exported. There is therefore a need to develop expertise in furthering the development of this renewable resource particularly in KwaZulu-Natal where forestry forms a large part of the agricultural sector.

Prof Bice Martincigh – Pillar Leader

Bice Martincigh taught for six years at the Durban University of Technology, before joining University of KwaZulu-Natal where she is currently an Associate Professor in Physical Chemistry. She has held Visiting Professorships at West Virginia University, the University of Wales in Cardiff and Portland State University.

In 2011 she was awarded the University’s Distinguished Teacher Award in recognition of “her exceptional ability to tailor and differentiate her teaching to meet the different levels of study of her undergraduate and postgraduate students, in what is, moreover, regarded as a “difficult” subject – chemistry”. She is a member of the South African Chemical Institute, American Chemical Society, American Society for Photobiology, European Society for Photobiology and a Fellow of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. She is currently the President of the South African Chemical Institute. Her research in nanomaterials has focussed on the preparation of materials that could be used either as adsorbents for the removal of heavy metal ions and organics or as photocatalysts for the destruction and mineralization of organics.

Prof Vincent Nyamori – Project Leader

Prof Vincent Nyamori joined UKZN in April 2008 as a lecturer. In 2011, he was promoted to Senior Lecturer in the School of Chemistry and in 2012, he was appointed as an Academic Leader within the School of Chemistry and Physics. In 2015, he was promoted to an Associate Professor in the School of Chemistry. Also, he is currently the Coordinator of the UKZN Nanotechnology Platform.

His research interests include: (a) Sustainable Energy; (b) Green Chemistry (c) Organometallic Synthesis; and (d) Nanotechnology and Materials Science. He is member of the American Chemical Society (ACS), Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry (MRSC) and an affiliate member of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). He is currently the Vice President of the South Africa Chemical Institute (SACI). Vincent played a key role in the initiation and establishment of the SACI Green Chemistry Division and he served as its first National Chair from 2011 to 2013. He is currently the Vice-Chair of the Green Chemistry Division and Vice-Chair of the SACI KwaZulu-Natal Section. 

DR Werner van Zyl – Project Leader

Werner van Zyl pursued his undergraduate studies in South Africa and his PhD studies at Texas A&M University USA with John P. Fackler, Jr. (1994-1998). He was also NWO postdoctoral associate at the University of Twente, Netherlands (1999-2003). He worked at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) before joining UKZN as a Senior Lecturer in 2008 and was recently promoted to Associate Professor. His research interests include: Inorganic- and Coordination Chemistry; Green Chemistry; and Nanomaterials Chemistry.

Dr Adam Skelton

Dr Adam Skelton is an expert in a range of molecular modelling techniques, mostly centered on classical molecular dynamics and quantum mechanical calculations. He graduated with a master’s in Chemistry from the University of Cardiff, UK in 2002. He performed his PhD, at Warwick University, UK, in Chemistry, from 2004 to 2008 in molecular modelling of the interactions between biomolecules and inorganic surfaces. From 2008 to 2011 he started his postdoctoral studies at the department of Chemical Engineering at Vanderbilt University, USA, performing molecular modelling research on quartz/water/electrolyte interactions. From 2011 to 2012 he moved to the University of Dayton to perform research on molecular modelling of lipid bilayers and ion channels and ab initio calculations of silica cages. He moved to the University of KwaZulu-Natal to perform research in drug design and molecular modeling of biological systems.

He is currently appointed as a lecturer in the School of Health Sciences. His research interests are modelling synthetic channels in lipid bilayers, simulating the interaction between biological molecules with inorganic surfaces and modeling biological systems.

Dr Berner Owaga

Dr Owaga’s research interests are in the synthesis and structural elucidation of organic, inorganic and metal organic compounds with interesting physical properties. His focus is in polymorphism, isomorphism and co-crystallization studies of these compounds. He investigates properties like magnetic susceptibility, luminescence, fluorescence in addition to studies of the compounds biological and catalytic activities. Some of the characterization techniques he employs are: single crystal XRD, PXRD, DSC, electron microscopy and solid and solution NMR.

Dr Bice Pruessner

Dr Pruessner obtained her PhD in Materials Science from the University of Stuttgart and the Max-Planck-Institut fuer Metallforschung in Stuttgart, Germany. She undertook postdoctoral studies at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Berkeley National Laboratory in the US, and has subsequently taught and researched at universities in the US, Germany and South Africa. Her research interests are in the correlation between processing parameters, microstructure and properties in a wide range of materials for energy and environmental applications including high-temperature materials and coatings, battery materials and nanostructured materials.

Dr Bruce Sithole

Dr Bruce Sithole is Group Leader of the Forest and Forest Products (FFP) laboratories and Director of the FFP research centre, a joint venture between UKZN and the CSIR. He graduated with a BSc (Hons) from the University of Sierra Leone and obtained an MSc from the University of Aberdeen and a PhD in Industrial Chemistry from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. He has previously worked at the Pulp and Paper Research Institute of Canada where he was a Principal Scientist and Group Leader. His research interests encompass many aspects of pulp and paper making technologies. He joined the CSIR in 2010 to set up research activities in Biorefinery processing and Green Technologies. He has consulted extensively to pulp and paper companies in Canada, the USA, South America and South Africa. Bruce holds a faculty appointment in chemical engineering at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

DR Iain Kerr

Iain Kerr is seconded to UKZN by the Paper Manufacturers Association (Pamsa). He has lectured in the fields of pulp and papermaking technology for the past twelve years. His current research projects include: water reduction in various paper mills using modelling, carbon flows through the forest products industry, and methods for producing crystalline nanocelluose (CNC).

NameSchool at UKZN
Clinton BemontSchool of Engineering
Genene MolaSchool of Chemistry and Physics
Jegede AyoolaCollege of Health Sciences
Leigh JarvisSchool of Engineering
Mathew MoodleySchool of Chemistry and Physics
Mzamo ShoziSchool of Chemistry and Physics
Onyemaechi AzuCollege of Health Sciences
Sreekanth JonnalagaddaSchool of Chemistry and Physics
Thomas MoyoSchool of Chemistry and Physics
NameSchool at UKZNReponsibilty
Ms Ifeoma Anazonwu School of Chemistry and PhysicsSynthesis and characterisation of graphene nanocomposite
Dr Moses OllengoSchool of Chemistry and PhysicsFabrication of devices
Mr Sizwe ZamisaSchool of Chemistry and Physics Synthesis and characterisation of conducting polymers
Mr Tonderai Mombeshora School of Chemistry and PhysicsSynthesis and characterisation of graphene
Mr Vashen MoodleySchool of Chemistry and PhysicsSynthesis and characterisation of nanocellulose

Nanoenergy: Development of a ‘NANO’ Refrigerator

Modern societies need more and more energy, both stationary and mobile. Yet, in rural areas of South Africa and all over Africa, even basic energy sources are often not available. For small scale and even larger scale farming communities, refrigeration of produce between harvest and sale or pasteurisation of milk is therefore a big problem. The use of fossil fuels to power a refrigeration unit should be avoided due to cost and environmental impact. It is, therefore, imperative to develop means of keeping food fresh and improve food security using the available resources of energy and construction materials.The development of new materials enables new and exciting real-world applications. The problem of autonomously powered refrigeration in farming communities calls for the use of new materials or material combinations to make a refrigeration unit cost effective, environmentally friendly, practical and virtually maintenance-free. To this end we explore the use of nanostructured materials and composites for a range of energy technologies including photovoltaics, electrochemical energy storage, nanofluids and graphene cables 

NameSchool at UKZNResponsibility
Dr Clinton BemontSchool of EngineeringSystems Integration
Prof Genene MolaSchool of Chemistry and PhysicsPhotovoltaics
Dr Guiseppe PellicaneSchool of Chemistry and PhysicsPhotovoltaics
Dr Karin PruessnerSchool of Chemistry and PhysicsPillar Leader, Electrochemical energy storage
Dr Khalid OsmanSchool of Chemistry and PhysicsSystems Integration
Dr Leigh JarvisSchool of EngineeringGraphene
Dr Thomas MoyoSchool of Chemistry and Physics Synthesis and characterization of nanoparticles
Prof Tilahun SeyoumSchool of EngineeringSystems Integration
Prof Patrick NdunguUniversity of Johannesburg
Prof Alessandro SergiUniversity of Messina
NameLevel School at UKZNSupervisor
Aradhna JagarnathHonoursSchool of Chemistry and PhysicsDr Pruessner
Elhadi ArbabPhD School of Chemistry and PhysicsProf Mola
Kudzai MugadzaPhDSchool of Chemistry and PhysicsProf Mola
M. E. Khulekani  MScSchool of Chemistry and PhysicsProf Mola
M. M. TchoukouegnoPhDSchool of Chemistry and PhysicsProf Mola 
M. W. Hlongwane  MScSchool of Chemistry and PhysicsProf Mola 
N. MalingaPhDSchool of EngineeringDr Jarvis
Patrick TonuiPhD School of Chemistry and PhysicsProf Mola
S. GarderMScSchool of EngineeringDr Jarvis 
Saheed HuseinPhDSchool of Chemistry and PhysicsProf Mola
Sarisha OjageerMScSchool of EngineeringDr Jarvis
Xolani Mbuyise Honours School of Chemistry and PhysicsProf Mola