The facility to be put up at the University of Nairobi is to concentrate on the research of all aspects of computational nanoscience, and to help promote the fields of nanoscience and nanotechnology across the country and beyond.
This has emerged following talks between the university and the Iran Embassy in Nairobi which will bring in Iranian universities to actualise the ambitions.
Western and Asian powers have historically dominated the field of nanotechnology, but this development arguably adds impetus to Kenya’s bid to transform itself into an innovation and research hub in Africa.
Nanotechnology refers broadly to a field of applied science and technology whose unifying theme is the control of matter at the molecular level in scales smaller than 1 micrometre, normally 1 to 100 nanometres, and the fabrication of devices within that size range. The technology finds application in a variety of sectors including medicine, transport, agriculture, electronics and energy.
Speaking during a virtual courtesy call to the University of Nairobi Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Kiama last week, the Iran Ambassador Jafar Barmaki noted that the institutions of higher learning from the two countries could collaborate on nanotechnology and oil exploration.
‘A big opportunity’
“This is a big opportunity. Iran has over 40 years’ experience in the two sectors and is willing to share with Kenya. We could work on staff and student exchange programmes,” said Barmaki.
Nanotechnology has been billed as the science of the future, with micro-particles already powering innovations across industries.
Experts reckon that nanotechnology has the potential to increase the efficiency of energy consumption, foster food security, solve major health problems and increase manufacturing production at reduced costs.
“We are keen on tapping such new innovations to drive the country’s economic agenda,” said Kiama.
Last year, Iran announced that it would partner with Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology to formulate postgraduate programmes in nanotechnology, equip nanotechnology laboratories and bring in professors in the field of nanotechnology in a bid to build capacity in the field and raise awareness about nanoscience.
According to the Web of Science, Iran ranks fourth in nanotechnology in the world after China, the United States of America and India.
Research and innovation centres
Kenya has been pushing universities to morph into research and innovation centres, providing a platform for top-notch researchers to use their skills to develop solutions to African challenges.
The country hopes to use science, technology and research to address some of the problems threatening economic growth such as food insecurity, poaching, congestion in major towns and energy shortages.
A study of Kenya’s situation however reveals minimal understanding of what nanoscience and nanotechnology are, and what their potential benefits are.
“Given the current and anticipated impacts of nanotechnology in work efficiency, ways of life and the environment, Kenya’s efforts should be focused on how nanotechnology can improve efficiency. This requires synergistic relationships amongst all the stakeholders right from the beginning of the research and development processes,” said Professor Bernard Aduda in a recent research paper titled “Status of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in Kenya”.
“The teaching of and research in these areas and the accompanying infrastructure are weak and disjointed. Moreover, there are almost non-existent or weak specific regulatory tools and policies governing this important but emerging technology and discipline.
“Gaps presently exist in our scientific knowledge, and coupled with inadvertent outcomes witnessed in other technological advances there are reasons enough for nanotechnology industries and relevant government agencies to invest in understanding the possible risks and neutralising them prior to putting the products into the market,” the University of Nairobi academic argued.
Once set up, the centre would become a hub of nanotechnology for masters students from not only the University of Nairobi but from other universities in Africa. Lecturers and technocrats will be sought from Iranian universities and from Iranian nanoscience research centres.
Barmaki said every year Iran gives 50 fellowships to African students to study masters and doctoral programmes in Iran.