South Africa has considerably strengthened its association with global projects such as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research. Investment in astronomy has been significant, and the country has successfully attracted a major part of the SKA. Likewise, substantial investment in the Southern African Large Telescope, as a global facility shows the importance South Africa places on research infrastructure to engage global science. To complement the focus on global infrastructure in South Africa, a South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR) has been developed to facilitate a research infrastructure investment programme.

SARIR is intended to provide a strategic, rational, medium to long term framework for planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating the provision of research infrastructures (RIs) necessary for a competitive and sustainable national system of innovation. SARIR also provides a basis for discussion concerning financing future infrastructure for research in South Africa, and for participating in joint international RIs. The roadmap was developed through a bottom-up process, driven from within the national research community, moderated at a technical level by an expert Steering Committee, and aligned with national research priorities through strategic moderation by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI).

Research infrastructures

The list of 17 RIs initially emerging from the consultative process ranged from medium to large, and were clustered around six scientific domains, namely:

  1. humans and society;
  2. health, biological and food security;
  3. Earth and environment;
  4. materials and manufacturing;
  5. energy; and
  6. physical sciences and engineering.

Through two iterations of detailed business plans prepared by dedicated champions for each of the 17 RIs, coupled with dual expert reviews by a Steering Committee comprising 15 experts from a wide array of sectors, 13 RIs from five scientific domains eventually emerged as concrete and sufficiently conceptualised proposals for inclusion in SARIR.

On the basis of a comprehensive and robust assessment process, the following seven RIs were approved for establishment in the 2016/17 financial year:

  • An expanded terrestrial and freshwater environmental observation network;
  • A nuclear medicine research facility;
  • A South African network of health and demographic surveillance sites;
  • A national centre for digital language resources;
  • A Natural science collections facility;
  • Shallow marine and coastal research infrastructure;
  • Distributed platform for “omics” research.

For more information about SARIR and the associated projects, please download the full information sheet from the Department of Science and Innovation.