Imperial and MIT announce winners of first Africa-focused seed fund


Cape Town University

Imperial and University of Cape Town researchers will investigate how tuberculosis is transmitted

Imperial College London and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have announced the winners of the first Africa-focused seed fund.

The funded projects will bring scientists together from Imperial, MIT and partner institutions in Africa, to work on infectious disease, high energy physics and eco-friendly refrigerants.

The MIT - Africa - Imperial College London Seed Fund promotes early-stage collaboration between faculty and researchers at MIT, Imperial and institutions in Africa.

The funding, worth $100,000 in total, will be used for exploratory research, small-scale experiments and for exchanges between the partner institutions.

Strengthening collaborations in Africa

Imperial’s Vice-President (International) Professor Maggie Dallman
Imperial’s Vice-President Maggie Dallman visited Africa last year to strengthen collaborations across the continent

Imperial’s Vice-President (International) Professor Maggie Dallman, said: “These exciting projects bring together teams from three continents to further our understanding in physics, infectious disease and energy.

“Imperial’s excellence arises from attracting talented people and working with leading institutions from across many different regions and we are eager to grow and strengthen our collaborations with partners in Africa.”

Imperial has dozens of research projects taking place across Africa.

Professor Hazel Sive, Director of the MIT-Africa initiative emphasizes the outstanding quality of MIT – Africa – Imperial collaborations.

“The funded projects bring together investigators of the highest calibre. We look forward to promoting this wonderful opportunity at top universities across African countries.

“MIT has set Africa as a priority region for global engagement, and such high impact joint research programs contribute to strengthening mutually beneficial connections with African colleagues.”

The MIT- Africa - Imperial College London Seed Fund is one of over 20 Funds facilitated by MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI).

Successful award winners:

Researchers are investigating the spread of tuberculosis
Researchers are investigating the spread of tuberculosis

Fluorescence detection of tuberculosis transmission (University of Cape Town)

Principal Investigators: Dr Brian Robertson, Imperial, Professor Laura Kiessling, MIT, Professor Digby Warner, University of Cape Town.

The “fluorTB” consortium comprising researchers from MIT, Imperial and the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa will investigate how tuberculosis (TB) is transmitted.

Imperial's Dr Brian Robertson
Imperial's Dr Brian Robertson

South Africa has a high incidence of TB and researchers at UCT have developed personal clean room technology to investigate when TB is transmitted – for example, whether it spreads through actions such as talking as well as coughing – and how quickly anti-TB therapy prevents the release of infectious aerosols.

The MIT - Africa - Imperial College London Seed funding will allow researchers at MIT and Imperial to explore the use of advanced fluorescence labelling – causing live bacteria to glow in a manner that will increase their visibility under a microscope.

The research could help restrict the spread of TB in the future by helping doctors to determine which patients are most infectious.

UCT’s Professor Digby Warner said: “This collaboration is very exciting as it offers the potential to speed up detection of viable TB aerosols, thereby increasing the efficacy of therapeutic interventions which can be targeted to infectious individuals in real-time.”

Augmented Boiling with nano-Engineered surfaces and eco-friendly Refrigerants (University of Pretoria)

  • The solar installation at the University of Pretoria

    The solar installation at the University of Pretoria

  • Professor Josua P Meyer at the University of Pretoria

    Professor Josua P Meyer at the University of Pretoria

  • Heat transfer labs at the University of Pretoria

    Heat transfer labs at the University of Pretoria

  • Heat transfer labs at the University of Pretoria

    Heat transfer labs at the University of Pretoria

Photographs courtesy of the University of Pretoria

Principal Investigators: Professor Christos N. Markides, Imperial, Assistant Professor Matteo Bucci, MIT, Professor Josua P Meyer, University of Pretoria

Boiling of fluids, such as refrigerants or water, is a very effective way to transfer heat and is therefore employed in a wide range of applications.

Professor Christos N. Markides
Professor Christos N. Markides from the Department of Chemical Engineering

The three teams are aiming to improve the understanding of this important process with the ultimate aim of enhancing the boiling performance of novel refrigerants.

This is a necessary pathway for unlocking the efficient use and integration of next-generation, eco-friendly fluids in renewable heating, cooling and power systems.

They are particularly interested in concentrated solar-power systems and fully-passive thermally-powered cooling systems that rely on the use of low global-warming potential refrigerants.

To achieve this goal, they will perform world-first experimental studies in large-scale facilities using advanced laser-based and infrared diagnostic tools as well as nano-engineering techniques to modify the properties of solid surfaces.

The research could also have potential impact on water-based applications such as steam generation, steam power-plant systems and solar cooking.

Professor Josua P Meyer, from the University of Pretoria, said: “The strength of this project is that different international partners with unique expertise, experiences and experimental equipment will collaborate with each other.

"We will learn from each other and it will create exciting opportunities to develop follow-up projects and leverage the expertise of each partner. We are looking forward to working and publishing with Imperial College London and MIT.”

High Energy Physics (University of the Witwatersrand)

The three teams of researchers are aiming to advance knowledge and understanding of string theory
The three teams of researchers are aiming to advance knowledge and understanding of string theory

Principal Investigators: Professor Amihay Hanany, Imperial, Professor Washington Taylor, MIT, Professor Vishnu Jejjala, University of the Witwatersrand

The three teams of researchers are aiming to advance knowledge and understanding of string theory – the idea that fundamental particles are not point-like dots, but tiny strings.

Professor Amihay Hanany
Professor Amihay Hanany from the Department of Physics

The study of solutions to string theory that may describe our universe has led to difficult problems that require new ideas from geometry and computation.

The three teams have complementary skills and the funding will enable conferences to share knowledge and expertise.

The teams hope to develop new ideas and techniques that will lead to progress on these basic questions of physics and which may also shed new light on challenging problems in mathematics and computation.

Professor Vishnu Jejjala, from the University of the Witwatersrand, said: “Working with leading experts from Imperial and MIT provides the opportunity to focus shared and complementary expertise to attack old problems with novel and innovative methodology, such as machine learning.

"This collaboration has the potential to better characterise the kinds of models that are natural in the landscape of theories and make contact between string theory and the real world.”


Stephen Johns

Stephen Johns
Communications Division

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