Research at UCT takes place within a number of formal research structures or groupings, including:
- faculties and departments
- university research institutes
- accredited research groups
- national instruments such as Centres of Excellence and the Department of Science and Technology / National Research Foundation (DST/NRF) South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI).
Increasingly, research at UCT is also drawn together into areas of research strengths (featured below). These interdisciplinary hubs are selected for particular support because they meet a number of strategic objectives and encompass a critical mass of researchers. They also provide an opportunity to leverage our geographic advantage, and show potential for strong collaboration nationally, across the continent and globally.
Astronomy, cosmology and gravity
UCT research in this area spans stellar and galactic astrophysics, and extragalactic astronomy, and extends into the fundamental physics that underlies the nature of the universe. UCT also plays a leading role in the Square Kilometre Array (see ‘data-intensive research’ below). The Department of Astronomy – the only dedicated university-based astronomy group in South Africa – and the High Energy Physics, Cosmology and Astrophysics Theory Group are two groups that undertake this research.
The African Climate and Development Institute (ACDI) conducts interdisciplinary innovative research across a wide range of disciplines. The institute brings together academics, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), business and government to co-produce and test new insights, evidence and innovations that will help solve Africa’s climate and development challenges.
Understanding what drives local, national and global conservation conflict, including conflict among people about how to balance wildlife, requires an interdisciplinary approach. Biology and sociology represent core research domains. Conservation also needs a deeper engagement with the specific historical and socio-economic context within which conflicts arise.
UCT is rapidly becoming a hub for astronomical and astrophysics research in Africa. To address the shortage of skills required for dealing with the data-intensive nature of this research, UCT (in collaboration with the University of the Western Cape, among others) is taking the lead in creating the framework to introduce African researchers to data-intensive research and turn it into actionable knowledge. While astronomy and astrophysics are the main focus areas for developing and transferring these skills, other areas such as bioinformatics and statistical sciences are included.
The Institute for Democracy, Citizenship and Public Policy in Africa conducts comparative empirical studies of contemporary African democracy. Previous research has demonstrated that democracy needs effective and predictable political institutions, and an active and critical citizenry, as well as public policies that enable inclusive growth and rising welfare. The institute investigates each of these 3 areas with democracy being the guiding theme that binds them together.
The Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3-D) at UCT was established to close the gap between the institution’s research and the development of new medicines. By adopting a multidisciplinary approach and the use of modern technology platforms, the H3-D has become the leading drug-discovery organisation in Africa. The centre is committed to training a new generation of African scientists with the key skills needed for integrated drug discovery and development.
In the context of rapid urbanisation and climate change, water security and consumption are extremely important issues. UCT’s wastewater treatment research is working to develop innovative solutions to improve wastewater treatment, as well as ways to ensure that the quality and access to water is maintained.
To gain new knowledge, physicists have been colliding atomic particles at ever higher energies. At present the highest beam energies are available at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland. The Department of Physics at UCT has been participating in the work of the LHC by contributing to 2 of its large detectors. This is now an important focus area for the Department of Physics and contributes strongly to its visibility on the international scene.
At a time when increasing attention is focused on many emerging infections and re-emerging infectious diseases, the work at the UCT Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) is crucial. It has become a major hub for the development of independent researchers across Africa. Research in the IDM focuses on infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, genetic medicine and molecular medicine, including drug discovery.
The cold Benguela current and warmer Agulhas current, together with the southern ocean, are central to Africa’s climate variability and diverse biology. South Africa’s position between the currents, with easy access to 3 major oceans, makes it an optimal site for marine research. The UCT Marine Institute (Ma-Re) focuses on this unique marine environment and its associated environmental issues.
South Africa’s economic growth is dependent on the efficiency and sustainability of its mining industry. Mining research at UCT explores ways to address industry challenges and also investigates the role of policy and law in South African mining. The focus has primarily been on the competing demands of nationalisation and private ownership of the country’s natural resources and how it has had an impact on relations between government and national and international investors.
The majority of people who suffer from common mental and neurological disorders live in low- and middle-income countries. Yet, more than 95% of research publications in the area of psychiatry are from high-income countries. The Neurosciences Initiative has made great strides towards remedying this imbalance, focusing both on increased access to care and treatment and on transforming research and teaching in the neurosciences in Africa by drawing together an array of expertise.
South Africa is a country with enormous untapped potential but it also has a history of oppression and uneven development. High levels of poverty and inequality persist. Through its Poverty and Inequality Initiative (PII), UCT aims to provide solutions to the twin challenges of poverty and inequality. The PII has become a national venture.
Globalisation presents many challenges to preserving Africa’s identity. During this time of rapid development, it is essential that Africans are empowered to shape their own identity. UCT supports a variety of projects that give a voice to the different histories of South Africa and the continent. In this way, UCT aims to contribute to a process of respect, growth and healing.
South Africans continue to face persistent high levels of violence. A core group of researchers at UCT from a variety of disciplines have been working within the diverse but related fields of policing, causes of rape, prevention of child maltreatment and the like. Together they have formed the Safety and Violence Initiative (SAVI) with a mandate to focus on understanding and intervening in the promotion of safety and the reduction of violence in South Africa.
The Schools Improvement Initiative (SII) is a response to the education crisis in South Africa. The underachievement of learners, particularly in township schools around Cape Town, has resulted in relatively few black students from these disadvantaged areas qualifying for admission to UCT.
SII was formed to build partnerships with education-related groups, both within and beyond UCT, to meet this challenge.
Rapid urbanisation raises issues of adequate food supply, affordable shelter, employment opportunities, water and waste management, environmental degradation and climate change. Achieving well-governed and sustainable cities is becoming increasingly important to the future health of the planet. The African Centre for Cities at UCT is an interdisciplinary research and teaching programme that seeks to facilitate critical urban research and policy discourses for the promotion of vibrant, democratic and sustainable urban development from an African perspective.