07 October 2019 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Supplied
Dr Robert Hansen
Dr Robert Hansen was appointed acting Director of the Centre for Mineral Biogeochemistry at the UFS Department of Geology. The centre is housing the recently approved BIOGRIP platform.

The Department of Science and Technology has identified biogeochemistry as one of the key scientific disciplines for the future of South Africa.

Recently, a Biogeochemical Research Infrastructure Platform was approved for the University of the Free State (UFS). Although the University of Cape Town will operate the platform, the UFS will be the node for Mineral Biogeochemistry. The latter will be housed in the new Centre for Mineral Biogeochemistry in the Department of Geology on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus.

Dr Robert Hansen, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Geology, was appointed acting Director of the centre.

Making a difference

According to him, the centre envisions integrated, multi-disciplinary research for the BIOGRIP platform, focused on studying the interaction between rocks/minerals, water, and life. Scientists will examine how the interaction between these elements can be used to practically improve the lives of South Africans, especially in areas plagued by dirty water.

“The platform will concentrate on applied research in terms of aspects such as basic sanitation, supplying water to communities, water purification, and acid mine drainage. It also has the potential to expand and focus on aspects such as the biogeochemistry of soil and the cultivation of usable microbes for specific crops,” he said.

Funds appropriated for the platform will initially be used for infrastructure such as buildings and laboratories. It will later be used to establish a mobile lab to determine the quality of drinking water as well as sources of contamination in the field. Dr Hansen believes especially the latter will be able to make a big difference in the water use and water supply of rural communities.

Research facilities for all

“BIOGRIP is regarded as a national platform and does not belong to the UFS specifically. The equipment to be purchased will, however, be available to everyone in the geology and geochemistry research areas on campus.”

"The platforms will not only contribute to research in the UFS Department of Geology. Other universities and research institutions will also benefit from this initiative," he said.

Bursaries will also be made available to postgraduate students in biogeochemistry.

According to Dr Hansen, the UFS would also like to attract international engagement. 

Dr Hansen started his career in 2003 at the Council for Geoscience as a young geologist in the Department of Mineral Development. He later became involved in environmental geochemical projects, and in 2010 he joined a consultative company where he acted as an associate consultant in the environmental industry. In 2016, he started working at the UFS Department of Geology.

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