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News 2014


We congratulate Gift Mehlana , who graduated in December, under the supervision of Prof. Susan Bourne and Dr. Gaelle Ramon. His PhD thesis is entitled "Crystal engineering of some pyridyl benzoic acid".

Dr. Gaelle Ramon, Gift and Prof. Susan Bourne and Gift with his family at graduation

At the recent Pan African Conference and Summit in celebration of the International Year of Crystallography, emeritus Professor and Senior Research Scholar in the Department of Chemistry, Luigi Nassimbeni was presented with an award in recognition of his standing as “An outstanding scientist and inspiring teacher contributing to crystallography in South Africa for over 40 years”. In her citation, Professor Susan Bourne noted that Prof Nassimbeni had played a leading role in developing the science of chemical crystallography in South Africa. When he began his career in the 1970s crystallography as a chemical tool was in its infancy, and today it plays a crucial role in understanding physical and biological processes. Prof Nassimbeni has trained more than 70 postgraduate students, many of whom have made significant scientific contributions in their own right.

Prof Luigi Nassimbeni, Prof Andreas Roodt (president of European Crystallographic Association & Prof Susan Bourne

UNESCO has declared 2014 the International Year of Crystallography and to celebrate the occasion, the ICDD is conducting a Campaign Fund Drive for the Ludo Frevel Crystallography Scholarships. The Scholarship Fund Drive began in November 2013 and continues through 2014. Each month the ICDD will be highlighting a previous scholarship recipient.

February month’s highlighted scholarship recipient is Gift Mehlana, a 2012 and 2014(!) Scholarship Program Recipient .  
2012 Research Proposal: Crystal Engineering of Some Pyridyl Carboxylic Acids
2014 Research Proposal: Crystal Engineering of Pyridyl Benzoic Acids

Research Synopsis
Metal organic frameworks (MOFs) have received great attention due to their useful properties. These materials provide a unique platform for achieving controllable physical properties such as framework flexibility which is normally triggered upon guest absorption. My research focuses on preparation and characterisation of MOFs for use as storage and sensing devices. Pyridyl carboxylates ligands, in particular 3-(4-pyridyl) benzoic acid and 4-(4-pyridyl) benzoic acid, are used to connect metal ions to give 1D, 2D and 3D extended structures which are highly porous. The advantage of using these ligands is that they give rise to compounds which are dynamic and are capable of responding to their environment. The flexibility of the materials arises from the ability of the ligands to rotate about their connecting points as well as the different binding modes that can be assumed by the carboxylate moiety under different conditions. Such materials are ideally suitable for solvatochromic sensing. The materials made are characterised by thermal techniques such as Differential Scanning Calorimetry, Thermogravimetric analysis and Hot Stage Microscopy. Structural elucidation is performed by single crystal X-ray diffraction and powder X-ray diffraction studies are used to check the phase purity and phase transition of the prepared materials. Rietveld refinement and Pawley fitting are conducted on powder X-ray data to validate unit cell parameters in situations where single crystals are not suitable for data collection. Topological analysis of the structures is performed in TOPOS computer program to have a better understanding of the network connectivity.

Impact of Scholarship
I was most privileged to be among the 2012 Ludo Frevel scholarship recipients. This scholarship contributed immensely to my educational experience and influenced my career. I have subsequently received several scholarships and awards including a poster award at the Indaba 7 conference in 2012 which was funded by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Winning the 2012 Ludo Frevel scholarship reinforced my self-confidence and gave me powers of resilience. My quest for more knowledge has become a reality and I trust that this will enhance capacity building and expertise in the area of metal organic frameworks.

Professional Pursuits
As a demonstrator and researcher, I always felt that the majority of Southern African universities need a paradigm shift in the way they conduct scientific research. This is what inspired me to pursue doctorate studies by research. Simply, my ambition is to bridge the gap between scientific research at universities and industry. As I reflect upon my plans for the future, there are two key areas in which I wish to make a meaningful contribution: (i) I plan to work with research based groups in the applied chemistry sector as well as in local universities with an aim to improve research and human resource capacity building through training and (ii) identifying scientific research projects that harness the available resources in southern Africa.

Besides my passion, hard work and motivation to achieve this, I do realise the importance of acquiring the right kind of knowledge which would render me capable of delivering the goods. I believe that pursuing a Doctorate Degree in Chemistry at the University of Cape Town under the guidance of Professor Susan Bourne and Dr. Gaëlle Ramon would provide me with the ideal learning environment to gain that knowledge. Once I accomplish my studies, my ultimate goal is to become a Researcher at a top University in Southern Africa. I wish to conduct in-depth crystallographic-oriented research as well as being instrumental in developing a large pool of well-trained university graduates catering to the needs of the industry, public sector and the community.

Since inception in 1992 the Ludo Frevel Crystallography Scholarship Fund has granted 161 scholarships valued at $379,750. Today 13 scholarships are awarded annually. We are asking for your help and generosity to donate funds to the scholarship endowment.  To donate, simply go to the website http://www.icdd.com/frevel/ and follow the directions under “Donate Now”.


The opening ceremony for UNESCO's International Year of Crystallography was held from 20 – 22 January at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.  Dyanne Cruickshank (PhD graduate) and Vaughan Maurel (current PhD student) from our Centre, as well as Alice Brink of the UFS, were invited by the DST to represent South Africa at the event. 

The purpose of this event was to bring together people from various fields that have an interest in crystallography. Various discussions regarding the current state of crystallography took place throughout the two days of the opening ceremony. One of the discussions was a panel session for Young Talented Crystallographers of the World. This discussion was moderated by Philip Ball of the UK and was a discussion among young professionals regarding the future of crystallography and the challenges young crystallographers face. This panel included Vaughan, Dyanne and Alice. 

Vaughan’s contribution to these roundtable talks was to steer the discussion in the direction of what the developing world can offer the developed world regarding the advancement of crystallography, considering their relative lack of resources.

                       Vaughan Maurel (back row, 3rd from right),

                        Dyanne Cruickshank (back row, far right)