Puk Researchers in HESS winning team of Descartes Science Prize
Article submitted 13 March 2007
HESS group shares in prize money of €1 million
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Potchefstroom Campus, North-West University
Researchers of the Puk Campus of the NWU are part of the transnational High-Energy Stereoscopic System (HESS) research group who received the Descartes Prize for Science in Brussels on 7 March.
The European Commission chose three research projects, who share the prize money of one million euro. In the European Union (EU), the Descartes Prize is commonly referred to as the “Nobel Prize” for transnational scientific teams.
The HESS project brought about a revolution in existing astronomical observation techniques and increased our knowledge and understanding of the Milky Way and other galaxies.
The Hydrosel project developed a method to use solar energy to produce hydrogen through hydrolysis. The advantage is that hydrogen can be used in an environmentally friendly manner for energy purposes.
The third project, Apoptosis, caused a major advancement in our understanding of how cells die. This could lead to new developments in the treatment of cancer and Aids.
The HESS group, consisting of approximately 100 researchers from Germany, France, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Poland, Ireland and Armenia, as well as South Africa and Namibia, was nominated in the category for basic sciences for its project entitled A new glimpse at the highest-energy Universe. HESS consists of four gamma ray-telescopes in Namibia, which have already during the past few years made revolutionary discoveries regarding gamma rays from the universe.
The Descartes Prize was established in 2000 to raise the profile of scientific and technological achievements based on collaborative transnational research.
This year’s winners were chosen from thirteen nominations – all of whom have done pioneering work. The thirteen were chosen from a total of 66 entries. The prize was awarded by a panel led by the former French Minister of European Union Affairs and an astronaut, Ms Claudie Haigneré. The panel further consisted of 22 eminent scientists from eleven EU countries. The thirteen were chosen from a total of 66 entries. The prize was awarded by a panel led by the former French Minister of European Union Affairs and an astronaut, Ms Claudie Haigneré. The panel further consisted of 22 eminent scientists from eleven EU countries.
According to the project leader of the South African HESS group, Prof. Okkie de Jager, it is a great honour to win the prize. “The prize proves that it is possible for South African scientific teams to compete at the top with the rest of the world.
“However, it has taken incredibly hard work to ensure that the standard of HESS be maintained.”
He says that because they were able effectively to follow in the footsteps of people such as Galileo Galilei, they had uncovered a new order in the multi-wavelength landscape. “It therefore means that we have opened a new window on the universe.”
The Puk team also participates in observations in Namibia, as well as the analysis and interpretation of data and the eventual publication of various new discoveries.
Most of the patents that form part of the entry for the Descartes Prize come from the ranks of the Pukke. Three of the four patents resulting from the HESS research belong to the NWU.
Teams from Germany and France built the telescopes and provided the manpower to make a success of the instrument. Long before the construction of HESS, the researchers of the NWU-PUK had made certain predictions, which were confirmed with the telescopes. In addition, they also contributed to the results of the discoveries.
South Africa – through the Department of Science and Technology – is contributing to the salary of the HESS engineer in Namibia, as well as to the operating costs of the project.
Photo below left: The HESS research group of the Puk Campus are (behind) Prof. Okkie de Jager, Messrs Mathew Holleran and Christo Venter, and Dr Ingo Buesching. In front is Prof. Christo Raubenheimer. Inset right: Mr Isak Davids.