Eleven breakthroughs in science and medicine by South Africans

South Africa News

Did you know that it was the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research who made lithium batteries a reality?

How about the CAT scan? Yes, that it is a South African invention too. It’s a little-known fact but according to the Sable Network, South Africa “is a world leader in everything from cell culturing to microsatellites and the technologies of flight.”

Let’s look at a list of other breakthroughs in science and medicine that South African’s can be proud of. How many were you aware of?

Digital laser

The world’s first digital laser was invented by doctoral candidate, and CSIR researcher, Sandile Nqcobo, and the former minister of Science and Technology cited it as a “testimony to the calibre of scientists that South Africa has.”

The laser is set to be used in the health sector, and its numerous applications could also be used to improve the communication sector.

Biomedical stem cell technology

The CSIR’s Gene Expression and Biophysics group designed the first induced pluripotent stem cells in Africa, which opened the door for researchers to investigate various diseases and cures. Stem cells could be used to restore sight or repair cells affected by heart disease, amongst other things. The possibilities are endless and are still being explored.

The full-body x-ray scanner

The scanner was created by Lodox Systems, a South African company that created the full-body scanner from technology that was initially designed for the security sector – for the detection of stolen diamonds.

The use of the full-body scanner was written into the storyline of Grey’s Anatomy during the show’s ninth season when the Grace Mercy West Hospital installed the scanner in their new ER department.

Retinal cryoprobe

A new method used in cataract surgery was created at the Baragwanath hospital in Soweto in the mid-seventies by a specialist in retinal diseases, Selig Percy Amoils.

Amoils received the Queen’s Award for Technological Innovation, and his cryoprobe was later displayed at the prestigious Kensington Museum.

Kreepy Krauly

A well-known invention that most South Africans are aware of: the Kreepy Krauly. It was developed by Ferdinand Chauvier from Springs in the mid-seventies.

Basically a vacuum cleaner for a swimming pool, it collects debris and takes the hassle out of pool cleaning, leaving pool-owners with more time to relax next to the pool instead of cleaning it.

Affordable solar power

Professor Vivian Alberts from the Universtiy of Johannesburg created a micro-thin metallic film – only five microns thick – used to make solar electricity five times less expensive.

The alloy interacts with most flexible services, and a semi-commercial plant was opened in Stellenbosch four years ago, solely for the production of the solar technology.

The CAT scan

One of the most famous inventions to come of out of South Africa has to be the CAT scan or Computed Axial Tomography Scan. It was created by physicists Allan Cormack and Godfrey Hounsfield in 1972. 

An X-ray source and electronic detectors rotate around the patient’s body and collect all the data needed to produce a cross-section of the body.

Pratley’s Putty

George Pratley initially wanted to create a type of glue to hold electrical components and inadvertently created something much stronger.

It was developed in the late sixties, and even help sent man to the moon! Pratley’s Putty was famously used by Apollo XI during the Moon Landing to hold bits of the landing craft together. Yep, a South African invention made sure those astronauts returned home safe and sound.

Oil from coal

Sasol – previously know as the South African Gas Distribution Company – was founded in 1950 when the government realised that our country had oil reserves.

To this day, Sasol remains the world’s first and largest oil-from-coal refinery and produces approximately 40% of all fuel used in South Africa.

Heart Transplant

Dr Chris Barnard famously performed the world’s first heart transplant in 1967 on Louis Washkansky, who volunteered for the groundbreaking surgery.

The success of the first heart transplant turned Dr Barnard into somewhat of a celebrity on the international scene, and he performed ten more transplants throughout his career.

Read also: Christiaan Barnard celebrated in ‘Heartbreaker’ book, 50 years after the first successful heart transplant

Smartlock safety syringe

The three-piece single-use syringe was specially designed in 1999 by several doctors at the Vaal University of Technology to provide increased protection against needle-stick injury.

In the era of Ebola, Hepatitis and HIV, the safety syringe has saved countless lives.

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