30 June 2021 | Story Dr Nitha Ramnath
Dr Charlene Marais, Prof Vladimir Azov and Prof Ulrich Hennecke

The Department of Chemistry at the University of the Free State (UFS) held a successful online International Symposium on Organic Chemistry on 15 June 2021. The symposium brought together scientists from several South African and foreign universities and created a virtual platform for a long-awaited discussion stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic. About 20 participants from universities in South Africa, Belgium, and Germany presented their lectures during the symposium. In addition, this symposium was directed at the postgraduate students in the Department of Chemistry at the UFS, allowing them to present their results to an international audience and to foster their engagement in scientific research.

For more than a year, the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented the common personal communication avenues for the researchers: face-to-face (F2F) conferences, symposia, and workshops. To bridge this gap, Prof Vladimir Azov and Dr Charlene Marais from the Department of Chemistry organised the online meeting for the researchers from the UFS and several other local and foreign universities, all working in the field of organic chemistry.

Online material from the International Symposium on Organic Chemistry is available at here

Collaborative project between the UFS and VUB towards the development of gel-based drug release systems

The symposium also served as a long-awaited inception meeting for the collaborative project between the Organic Chemistry group at the UFS and the Organic Chemistry (ORGC) group at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). This project is jointly funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and FWO (Research Foundation – Flanders); it is aimed at the development of new peptide-based materials with properties controllable by precisely tuned interactions of unnatural amino acids included in the peptide sequence. Such peptides can, for example, be used as smart materials for precisely controllable drug release. The South African team members, directed by Prof Vladimir Azov, will specialise in the development of the new amino acid building blocks, whereas the VUB team, headed by Prof Ulrich Hennecke, will focus on peptide preparation and studies on their properties.

This kick-off meeting was initially planned as a F2F event in June 2020 but was delayed due to the COVID-19 travelling restrictions and finally migrated to a virtual space. This provided an opportunity to present the project proposals and to discuss the initial results in a much broader circle than would have been possible within the common F2F meeting framework.

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