CSIR celebrates 75 years, creates new strategic direction

Read time 4min 20sec

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is embarking on a new strategy that will see it create more technological innovation for socio-economic development, as it celebrates 75 years of ground-breaking research and innovation in SA.

Established in 1945, the CSIR says it has accomplished major milestones since inception, improving the lives of millions of citizens through the implementation of its mandate, which has over the years been refined to respond to the global and local context.

This resulted in the spin-out of a number of institutions and the establishment of science councils, such as the South African Bureau of Standards, National Research Foundation, National Metrology Institute of South Africa and Human Sciences Research Council.

The government-owned organisation says it is implementing a new strategic direction built around accelerating socio-economic prosperity in SA through innovation that will resolve social challenges, while contributing to economic growth.

Some of the most impactful CSIR innovations and inventions throughout the decades include the first radar in SA (1945), the first microwave electronic distance measurement equipment, the tellurometer (1954), as well as the contribution of research to the invention of the lithium-ion battery in the 1980s. Today, lithium-ion batteries power smartphones, laptops, electric vehicles, smart grids and even homes.

Speaking at the celebrations on Monday, professor Thokozani Majozi, chairperson of the CSIR board, said the organisation has a rich heritage and strong reputation for excellence and innovation.

“The CSIR is an exceptional organisation and our unique multidisciplinary capability, and the focus on making an impact in improving the quality of lives of South Africans, is our steadfast pursuit. This outstanding feat bears testimony to the relevance of the CSIR and the role it has played in our ecosystem of innovation since 1945. It has played an important role in shaping the country’s science, engineering and technology space.”

The COVID-19 Information Centre.
The COVID-19 Information Centre.

The CSIR’s 75-year anniversary comes as the world experiences the biggest pandemic in the last century. In April, the CSIR, in collaboration with the National Department of Health, established the COVID-19 Information Centre, set up to monitor and track the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

The data centre, housed in a secure facility at the CSIR, in Pretoria, provides close to real-time analytics and dashboards on the coronavirus outbreak per province, district, local municipality and ward.

Its mobile visualisation platform, the Cmore App, is used by community health workers to record screening data and symptoms, and transmit information to the centre. It enables near-live display of the household screening and testing programme.

The council also collaborated with local partners to produce ventilators that have been rolled out nation-wide to patients showing respiratory distress in the early phase of COVID-19 infection. To date, 7 000 ventilators have been completed and delivered to hospitals and clinics.

True to its multidisciplinary nature, the CSIR’s impact has been experienced in diverse fields. In 1999, CSIR researchers developed a forecasting model to predict the outcome of the national elections, based on early voting results.

The model has since been successfully used to predict the results for all national and local government elections.

In 2010, the organisation unveiled its containment level-three laboratory for experiments involving HIV and TB pathogens. It enables researchers to conduct research and proof-of-concept studies for new HIV/Aids and TB diagnostics or therapeutics.

This week, minister of higher education, science and innovation Dr Blade Nzimande congratulated the CSIR for its contribution to shaping the country’s science, engineering and technology landscape.

“Over the years, I have been observing, with great pride, the work that the organisation does; work that has made a huge contribution to our country.

“Among the CSIR’s outstanding work includes the organisation’s online services, Worldnet Africa and CompuServe, sold to MIH Limited, to form MWeb, which marked the start of commercial Internet services in SA. Today, the company continues to take advantage of the demand for connectivity,” said Nzimande.

As part of Women’s Month activities last year, the CSIR showcased some of the breakthroughs made by its female researchers, using the world’s largest 3D printer, which is housed at the CSIR.

The 3D printing machine is currently the biggest in the world in terms of printing size and is able to print faster than other 3D printers, allowing for the printing of components up to 2m long, 600mm wide and 600mm high.

The 3D printer uses a powder bed fusion process called selective laser melting, where a 5kW laser melts titanium powder. A bed of powder is added for each layer and the subsequent layers are fused through the selective laser melting.

It has developed a number of projects, including components for the Ahrlac, Marlin missile, a drone frame and aerospace-grade structural components.

See also