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iThemba LABS Portrait

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iThemba Laboratory for Accelerator Based Sciences (iThemba LABS) is the largest multidisciplinary national research facility in South Africa and the largest accelerator facility in the southern hemisphere. With a permanent staff complement of approximately 270 members, 15 post-docs and 90 M.Sc. and Ph.D. students, the facility’s operational infrastructure is sited at two campuses, with the main site in Cape Town and the other in Johannesburg. The research programs of the Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) group are undertaken using the 6MV Tandem accelerator, while those of the Material Research group are generally carried out with the aid of both the 3MV Tandetron and the 6MV Tandem accelerators. The Radioisotope, Radiation Biophysics, and Subatomic Physics research groups primarily rely on the K = 200 Separated Sector Cyclotron (SSC) accelerator for their research programs.

It is important to highlight that iThemba LABS is not a conventional facility when compared to other facilities of similar size across the world. With the recent history of South Africa, the landscape for research and technical skills is still in a developing phase, and the mission of iThemba LABS has education and training as one of its main areas of focus in addition to creating a unique research environment. Catering, as it does, to training of postgraduate students and young research scientists from both South Africa and the rest of the African continent, iThemba LABS presents a truly unique, cosmopolitan, and multicultural research environment.

One of iThemba LABS’ current objective challenges is to develop sufficient local scientific and technical leadership, which is representative of the country’s diversity and gender balance, taking into consideration the socioeconomic realities, which are ever-prevalent. Notable progress has been made in providing state-of-the-art research equipment to the scientific community over the last decade. These include the refurbishment and commissioning of the Tandem accelerator, the establishment of AMS capabilities in 2017, and the replacement of the Van de Graaff with a new Tandetron accelerator in 2017.

In the first 30 years of its operation, the beam time from the SSC was equally divided between research, particle therapy, and supplying the medical sector with radioisotopes, an aspect that severely limited the competitiveness of each of the three activities and to a larger extent the nuclear physics research program. Through the ambitious Long-Range Plan iThemba LABS elaborated in 2017, the nuclear physics research program and nuclear medicine activities are now set to greatly benefit from the South African Isotope Facility (SAIF) project when the laboratory commissions the 70MeV cyclotron for radioisotope production and research. Once in operation, the new cyclotron will free the SSC beams that will subsequently be dedicated to basic and applied nuclear physics and radiation biology research.

Subatomic Physics research will continue to play a major part at iThemba LABS. The research programs will focus on niche areas where iThemba LABS will complement the research carried out at cognate laboratories around the world. The research infrastructure has been or is in progress to be significantly improved. Human resources will be supplemented to enable the laboratory to deliver on its core mandate of research, education, and training.

The research topic of Subatomic Physics at iThemba LABS can be broadly classified into Nuclear Reaction, Nuclear Structure, Nuclear Astrophysics, Hadron, Particle, and Applied Nuclear Physics. Hadron and Particle Physics research are primarily conducted at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) within the A Large Ion Collider Experiment (ALICE) and A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS (ATLAS) collaborations.
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