The establishment of interdisciplinary research focus areas, or UCT Signature Themes, was endorsed by the University Research Committee (URC) and approved by the Senate Executive Committee in 2004. These bodies saw the need for researchers to collectively tackle research problems in areas of regional and national value.
In 2007 UCT added three new Signature Themes to its repertoire - work designed to boost research excellence while also growing research capacity in areas of prioritised need.
Two of these Signature Themes are based in the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment. They are:
The theme will boost research on minerals beneficiation - the sequence of processes that produce metal from low-grade ore - from two main perspectives.
The first is fundamental, and will focus on underlying scientific areas within minerals beneficiation. The second - systemic - approach will consider the entire extraction chain to improve process performance, minimise the use of water and power, cut back on waste, and promote cleaner production options and technologies, as well as inherently safer process design.
Under the leadership of Professor Jean-Paul Franzidis of the Department of Chemical Engineering, the theme will integrate research groupings - the Centre for Minerals Research, the Bioprocess Engineering Research Unit, the Crystallisation and Precipitation Research Unit, and the Environmental Research Group - to address key challenges facing the minerals industry in South Africa.
This new theme has established an inter-disciplinary research and teaching centre, the African Centre for Cities, based in the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment (EBE), but linking urban-related work across the university.
In motivating for the theme, the researchers argued that cities are too complex to be seen as the preserve of one discipline. As a result, research will draw together work from departments across EBE (such as waste management, transport, city planning and design) and from other faculties as well.
These include the faculties of science (EGS's work on climate change and food security), health sciences (promoting "healthy cities") and humanities (urban society and culture). Urban Infrastructure and planning, the environment, governance, and space and culture will form initial research foci.
The teaching arm of the initiative - the Urban Infrastructure Design and Management master's programme - was established in 2006 with Ove Arup funding. The theme will also forge a close partnership with those in the public and private sectors.