Stellenbosch University
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CAF training initiative advances research
Author: CAF Admin
Published: 03/07/2017

The annual training initiative of the Central Analytical Facilities (CAF) at Stellenbosch University took place from 19-23 June. Thirteen workshops were presented and more than hundred researchers, students and people from industry all over South Africa and Nigeria attended. Prof Gary Stevens, CAF director, welcomed them at an opening function at STIAS. Leco, Microsep, PerkinElmer, Separations and ThermoFisher were also thanked for sponsoring this initiative and the support of the National Research Foundation (NRF) were gratefully acknowledged.

This initiative plays an important role in CAF's aim to advance research. The overall feedback from participants were very positive. “I must say the workshops are helping and equipping lots of postgraduate students on the use of sophisticated science equipment otherwise not present in their universities" mr Tonna Anyasi from the University of Venda said after attending two workshops at the CAF Training Initiative.


The Introduction to X-ray Micro- and Nano-CT workshop focussed on explaining the fundamentals of X-ray computed tomography and the origins of the technique. This was followed by an in-depth look at the different applications of the technology in different scientific fields. According to Stephan le Roux (presenter) this helped the participants to relate the technique with their own samples and to use X-ray CT for their own studies.

All the participants at the Flow Cytometry workshop had a keen interest in the topic, as they had future projects that employed the method, Rozanne Adams (presenter) said. “We went through the introduction to fluorescence and light properties and I also discussed the principle of the techniques. The participants were quite interactive and interested, especially in the application of flow cytometry in data analysis and particle sorting" Adams said. In the practical component, each participant was given the opportunity for hands on experience on the instrument.

The Confocal Microscopy and Super-resolution workshop was divided in two parts. In the morning, Dumisile Lumkwana conducted a presentation on Confocal microscopy, explaining the background of light, the components of the microscope and resolution principals to the participants. This was followed by a practical session on the microscope, where participants got the opportunity to set up their own imaging parameters for acquiring beautiful confocal microscopy images. After lunch, Lize Engelbrecht presented the theory behind Super-resolution microscopy, followed by a demonstration on the microscope of this technique. Participants found both sessions very exciting.

A theoretical session started the Practical XRF workshop, covering the principles of XRF, adequate sample preparation and overview of quantitative and qualitative analysis. Practical work followed this session where participants were introduced to the sample preparation, by making fused beads and pressed powder pallets. The afternoon session started with an overview of all the components of a WDXRF.  This was followed by a practical session analysing the samples prepared earlier and demonstrated how to optimise calibration by selecting different variables on the components discussed earlier. “Participants left the workshop with useful over all knowledge on XRF analysis and how to apply it to their own work" Mareli Grobbelaar (presenter) said.

The LC-MS workshop was very popular with 42 people attending. It started with a theoretical session after which participants were divided in three groups for the practical sessions. “The staff were helpful in relating the work to our personal projects when asked and also helped with troubleshooting and advice" one of the participants said.

The Nucleic Acid Preparation, QC and Library building for Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) workshop stretched over 3 days. Each participant extracted DNA from their own saliva on the first day and proceeded to physically fragment the genomic DNA during the latter part of day one.  On day 2 attendees successfully isolated RNA from honey bees. On the final day the NGS workshop was concluded with a presentation of a fragment library build and hands-on experience using paramagnetic beads to clean fragmented DNA. 

According to Lize Engelbrecht (presenter) of the Correlative Light and Electron Microscopy (CLEM) workshop many participants did not have much experience in either fluorescence microscopy or electron microscopy.  There was a keen interest in what the CLEM technique could offer their respective studies. The course kicked off with a presentation providing a short overview of the different microscopy techniques, followed by the various workflows one could follow during a CLEM experiment. After the presentation, participants viewed a demonstration of setting up CLEM coordinates with commercial CLEM holders as well as some in-house developed methods.

The Solution State Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) workshop included an overview of NMR theory, instrumentation tour and operational setup, sample preparation and running experiments and processing with Mestrenova 11. 1D and 2D NMR experiment interpretation and structural elucidation and selected chiral derivatives utilized in NMR absolute stereochemistry determination. “Most students left bright-eyed, finally knowing how to implement the theory practically in a research environment" dr Jaco Brand (presenter) said.

There was a lively atmosphere amongst participants and presenters, Lucky Mokwena (CAF) and Mark Pieterse (Leco Africa), at the GC-MS workshop. The course started with a full day of theory while the second day was dedicated to sample preparation, demonstration of the instruments and maintenance of the instrumentation with the help of Wernich Kuhn (CAF). The third day consisted of data analysis. Comparisons were made between different sample preparation techniques and compound recovery, demonstrating the importance of sample preparation. “We do believe that, armed with all the new information, the different companies received some very enthusiastic workers back after the workshop."

Participants at the Vicon neuromechanical analysis and Noraxon mobile neuromechanical analysis workshops had the opportunity to use the brand new Neuromechanics unit at Coetzenburg. Biomechanical analysis of human movement and the corresponding motor control were the focus of both training sessions with different technologies being implemented to perform the data acquisition and analysis. The first workshop consisted of training on the Vicon optical motion capture system, which tracks the position of small markers mounted on the skin to reconstruct skeletal posture, and the Noraxon wireless EMG system which measures the electrical activity in the muscles using surface electrodes placed on the skin. In the second workshop the attendees were instructed how to operate the Noraxon inertial motion capture system to obtain the kinematic data along with the Noraxon EMG sensors. Attendees were also given hands-on training regarding subject preparation, hardware setup and equipment operation. The key outcome of the training was to ensure independent operation of the equipment and valid and repeatable results.

Basic principles of ICP-AES and ICP-MS were covered in the Solution ICP-MS in Environmental Analysis of major and trace elements workshop, as well as an introduction to sample preparation and handling, and clean laboratory practices. This one day workshop ended with practical experience on both techniques in the laboratory.

At the U/Pb Geochronology workshop participants had an overview on the theoretical aspect, hands on data processing with Iolite and VisualAge as well as data processing with Isoplot.

Most participants were very thankful for the opportunity to attend this training initiative and added that it helped postgraduate students to complete their research.

Researchers, students and industry are invited to apply for next year's training initiative. Further details will follow early in 2018: