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Welcome to iThemba Laboratories for Accelerator Based Sciences (LABS)

iThemba Laboratories for Accelerator Based Science (LABS) is a business unit of the National Research Foundation (NRF) and committed to invest in the growth and development of scientific and technical competence in the field of accelerator-based science, with a special focus on women and designated communities. iThemba LABS provides access to state-of-the-art research infrastructure, both locally and globally, to facilitate activities that probe the nature, structure and properties of matter and materials, and to produce radioisotopes that can be used for diagnostics, imaging and therapy in nuclear medicine applications.

iThemba LABS is the biggest facility of its kind on the African continent and home to a number of particle accelerators that are housed in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The biggest accelerator is the 200-MeV Separated Sector Cyclotron (SSC) that is fed by two solid-pole injector cyclotrons. The SSC, which has been in operation since its inception in the 80’s, has provided beams of accelerated particles to two user communities, namely nuclear medicine and the (fundamental and applied) nuclear physics research community.

The establishment of the South African Isotope Facility (SAIF) in 2023 signals the dawn of a new dispensation where all beam-time from the SSC will be devoted to applied and fundamental nuclear physics research. The new facility, which was inaugurated by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande on 9 June 2023, will not only enhance the production yield of radiopharmaceuticals, but will also facilitate research and development in the field of isotope production.  “The inauguration of the South African Isotope Facility (SAIF) forms part of my Department’s efforts to enhance our existing scientific infrastructure and to advance and foster technology development and innovation in nuclear sciences and technology for the benefit of society, said Dr Nzimande”.

In addition, iThemba LABS has two laboratories dedicated to research at the atomic scale using particle beams from a 3-MV Tandetron and a 6-MV Tandem accelerator. The 6-MV Tandem accelerator is located in Johannesburg and equipped with an Accelerator Mass Spectrometer (AMS) for applications in the fields of climate change, archaeology, and cultural heritage to name a few.

Vision2030 of the National Research Foundation stresses the importance of Transformation, Innovation and Impact, Excellence and Sustainability as non-negotiable elements of the research agenda across its national facilities. iThemba LABS is to this end committed to position education and training as key priority areas for the immediate future as it grooms the next generation of researchers and technicians. The interventions linked to Science Engagement are viewed as instrumental in not just serving as talent magnets, but also disseminating information to various stakeholder groups that include educators, learners, undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as the general public.

A detailed laboratory portrait was published in Nuclear Physics News (See iThemba LABS Portrait) and a report celebrating achievements was published in 2022.

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