21 June 2021 Photo Supplied
Dr Robert Hansen
Dr Robert Hansen was recently appointed (31 May 2021) as Director of the Centre for Mineral Biogeochemistry in the Department of Geography. He believes that we as humans must try to make the world better.

With a mandate to promote the science of biogeochemistry in South Africa, the Centre for Mineral Biogeochemistry (CMBG) in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the University of the Free State (UFS) is working nationally with industry teams in the mining and agricultural sectors to contribute towards sustainable agriculture and sanitary conditions for South Africans.

Dr Robert Hansen, recently appointed (31 May 2021) as Director of the centre, believes that we as humans must try to make the world better, and plans to carry this vision to the larger Southern African Development Community (SADC) as well as the international community.

A sustainable future for the planet
CMBG aims to use biogeochemistry as a tool to facilitate a sustainable future for humans and planet Earth. “We study the area where water, rock, the atmosphere, and life come together in a complex system. Many aspects of these interrelationships, such as the removal of pollutants from water, can be used to the advantage of human society in a sustainable manner, such as having little, and in some cases, no waste products,” explains Dr Hansen.

He says they will also be focusing on developing and rolling out new emerging biotechnologies, which can be used to help mitigate the polluting legacy of the past. “The idea is to research and develop new biotechnologies that will result in creative and innovative solutions for a sustainable global society,” he says.

The Mineral Biogeochemical Research Infrastructure Platform (BIOGRIP) node, established in 2019, is also housed in the centre. According to Dr Hansen, the centre is conducting integrated, multidisciplinary research through the BIOGRIP platform. Scientists are investigating how the interaction between natural elements can be used to practically improve the lives of South Africans, especially in areas plagued by dirty water.

Improving water quality in the region
He also envisions building collaborative networks with specialists within the university, as well as with external organs of government and the private sector, both at national and international level, to increase the centre’s knowledge and application of biogeochemistry, ensuring a sustainable future for all.

In one of their more recent projects, the centre is working in the agricultural sector as part of a research team with the farming company, ZZ2, striving to ensure sustainable agriculture for the future.

In another project, they started with a multidisciplinary initiative on the biogeochemistry of the Welkom wetlands, with the aim of improving water quality in the region. “The project is still in its initial phases, but we are all very excited about it and the possibilities for improving the lives of local communities,” he says.

Dr Hansen, who is very pleased with the autonomy he and his team have received in pursuing projects and objectives with respect to academic research as well as industry initiatives, is really excited about the centre as a whole and where they are heading.

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