31 January 2020 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Leonie Bolleurs
UFS hosts Africa’s largest microscope facility for undergraduate training
At the opening of the third largest digital classroom in the world, were from the left, front: Gail Giordani, Prof Francis Petersen, Prof Jannie Swarts; back: Prof Prakash Naidoo and Prof Danie Vermeulen.

UFS invests R7 million in microscopes to enhance undergraduate training.

The University of the Free State (UFS) Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences opened a new undergraduate microscope laboratory, the most advanced and largest digital classroom of its kind in Africa and the third largest in the world, on its Bloemfontein Campus this week (30 January 2020). 

UFS management structures endorse this initiative that supports the UFS vision of being a research-led institution, producing globally competitive graduates. The opening was attended by the Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Francis Petersen, the Vice-Rector: Research, Prof Corli Witthuhn, the Vice-Rector: Operations, Prof Prakash Naidoo, the Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, Prof Danie Vermeulen, and dignitaries of the firm Zeiss South Africa, including the Managing Director, Gail Giordani.

Prof Petersen says: “The UFS wants to be more cutting-edge in teaching at an undergraduate level. We need to think differently – technology needs to be infused in our practices.”

“The new equipment allows for engagement in the classroom. Studies need to be interactive and engaging. Diverse input is crucial, and interaction is very important. Teaching and engagement are growing on an undergraduate level, creating the class of the future,” he adds.

New microscopes enhance learning experience

During a demonstration session of the new, state-of-the-art facility with technologically advanced equipment in the Biology laboratory of the Departments of Zoology and Entomology and Plant Sciences, the capabilities of the new equipment were highlighted.

According to Prof Jannie Swarts from the Department of Chemistry, who is the project leader of the drive to renew both the undergraduate and postgraduate laboratories and research equipment of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, the UFS has purchased a series of microscopes from Carl Zeiss – specifically to enhance undergraduate training.

The faculty bought 255 microscopes to the value of R6 917 917. “At an additional cost of 
R1 500 000, the UFS Department of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Services provided all the backup and infrastructure to interface a number of these microscopes on a localised network,” says Prof Swarts.

UFS hosts Africa’s largest microscope facility for undergraduate training
One of the high-tech microscopes. (Photo:Leonie Bolleurs) 

He continues: “These microscopes were deployed all over the campus. The main undergraduate laboratories benefiting from the programme are the Departments of Zoology and Entomology and Plant Sciences. In these departments, 227 microscopes are connected to 67 iPads and three computers deployed in three laboratories.

Prof Swarts explains: “Two types of microscopes were deployed: 127 compound microscopes (meaning light passes through a thin sample from below) and 100 stereo microscopes (meaning a sample is investigated with light shining on it from above – it does not pass through the sample). The compound microscopes are all interfaced with each other and a master computer, which is operated by the lecturer, enabling the instructor to observe what students are observing at each microscope at any time during a laboratory session.”

“This laboratory network also enables the lecturer and demonstrators to immediately identify any problems on the master computer that students may have during a practical session in the laboratory, and to provide appropriate assistance or guidance.”

“Impressive are the two large data projectors, two big screens, and 12 flat screens at strategic positions in the laboratory, which are interfaced with the master computer. Whenever a student observes an image of special importance or exceptional quality, the lecturer can immediately project it onto these screens and discuss with the entire class the important training content associated with the projected image,” states Prof Swarts. 

Students can furthermore project their microscope images onto their laboratory desks to help make high-quality drawings of what they observe. They can save these images and export them to their cellphones to include in their laboratory reports.

Hi-tech equipment makes microscopy sexy 

Prof Liesl van As, Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Zoology and Entomology, says the equipment puts the faculty in the position to make microscopy sexy for undergraduate students. 

Honours student in Zoology, Didintle Mosiea, states that the equipment gives one the opportunity to increase the quality of your work in the laboratory and enables you to deliver better, more accurate results. 

Other departments that benefited from this injection of hi-tech equipment, include the Departments of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences; Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology; Chemistry; and Physics.

During this programme to improve and expand its laboratory equipment, the UFS has also acquired other equipment to the value of R50 million over the past two years. These include various spectrometers, a zebrafish breeding facility (Department of Genetics), equipment for the facilities on the experimental farm, and a new single-crystal X-ray diffractometer (Department of Chemistry). 

Prof Swarts concludes: “The university will continue to upgrade and expand its training and research equipment, giving students a relevant learning experience with the latest, most modern equipment. This will position the university to contribute to new research developments to make South Africa competitive in the present technological world.”

UFS hosts Africa’s largest microscope facility for undergraduate training

Prof Francis Petersen says the university needs to think differently – technology needs to be infused in
its practices.(Photo: Leonie Bolleurs)

We use cookies to make interactions with our websites and services easy and meaningful. To better understand how they are used, read more about the UFS cookie policy. By continuing to use this site you are giving us your consent to do this.