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SciTech Watch The official almost bi-monthly electronic newsletter of the French Embassy in South Africa

No. 5/2012

On the cover the eagle has landed

Photo Š extranoise

In this issue …

HOT TOPIC | Everyone’s talking about… * *

Largest ever Cherenkov telescope sees first light Fossilized teeth reveal what homonids had on their braai

BURSARIES & SCHOLARSHIPS | Research and Tertiary Studies * *

Joint PROTEA 2012 Call for Project Proposals 2012 SAFe Think Programme

ON THE MARKET | Now recruiting * INRA is recruiting 53 experienced researchers


Robots, Cameras, Plants and... Sustainable Agriculture Virtual Reality Serving Education - A Promising Tool Arts et Métiers ParisTech Now in the USA New Industrial Chair on Oxy-Combustion Microprocessors - Smaller Size and Higher Efficiency Thanks to New Ultra-thin Films Green Light for the EUCLID Space Mission ! Silkmoth Antennae as a Model for Explosive Detectors

HOT TOPIC | Everyone’s talking about… The H.E.S.S. II Telescope Largest ever Cherenkov telescope sees first light

France is actively building partnerships in the field Astronomy and strongly supports the Cherenkov telescope in Namibia and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope in Africa. In order to deepen this cooperation, a delegation from the Paris Observatory will be undertaking a mission to Cape Town and to the Cherenkov site in Namibia at the end of September 2012. On 26 July 2012, the H.E.S.S. II telescope started operation in Namibia. Dedicated to observing the most violent and extreme phenomena of the Universe in very high energy gamma-rays, H.E.S.S. II is the largest Cherenkov telescope ever built, with its 28meter-sized mirror. Together with the four smaller (12 meter) telescopes already in operation since 2004, the H.E.S.S. (“High Energy Stereoscopic System”) observatory will continue to define the forefront of ground-based gamma ray astronomy and will allow deeper understanding of known high-energy cosmic sources such as supermassive black holes, pulsars and supernovae, and the search for new classes of high-energy cosmic sources. With a mass of almost 600 tons and its 28-meter mirror - the area of two tennis courts – the new arrival is just huge. This very large telescope named H.E.S.S. II saw its first light at 0:43 a.m. on 26 July 2012, detecting its very first images of atmospheric particle cascades generated by cosmic gamma rays and by cosmic rays, marking the next big step in exploring the Southern sky at gamma-ray energies. “The new telescope not only provides the largest mirror area among instruments of this type worldwide, but also resolves the cascade images at unprecedented detail, with four times more pixels per sky area compared to the smaller telescopes” states Pascal Vincent from the French team responsible for the photo sensor package at the focus of the mirror. Gamma rays are believed to be produced by natural cosmic particle accelerators such as supermassive black holes, supernovae, pulsars, binary stars, and maybe even relics of the Big Bang. The universe is filled with these natural cosmic accelerators, impelling charged particles such as electrons and ions to energies far beyond what the particle accelerators built by mankind can reach. As high-energy gamma rays are secondary products of these cosmic acceleration processes, gamma ray telescopes allow us to study these high-energy sources. Today, well over one hundred cosmic sources of very high-energy gamma rays are known. With H.E.S.S. II, processes in these objects can be investigated in superior detail, also anticipating many new sources, as well as new classes of sources. In particular, H.E.S.S. II will explore the gamma ray sky at energies in the range of tens of Giga-electronvolts – the poorly-explored transition regime between space-based instruments and current ground-based telescopes, with a huge discovery potential. The most extreme gamma ray emitters – Active Galactic Nuclei – shine in gamma rays with an apparent energy output which is one hundred times the luminosity of the entire Milky Way, yet the radiation seems to emerge from a volume much smaller than that of our Solar System, and turns on and off in a matter of minutes, a strong signature of supermassive black holes. For some of the objects seen with the four H.E.S.S. telescopes in the last years, no counterpart at other wavelengths is known; they may represent a new type of celestial object that H.E.S.S. II will help to characterize. When gamma rays interact high up in the atmosphere, they generate a cascade of secondary particles that can be imaged by the telescopes on the ground and recorded in their ultra-fast photo sensor 'cameras', thanks to the emission known as Cherenkov radiation – a faint flash of blue light. The high-tech camera of H.E.S.S. II is able to record this very faint flash with an “exposure time” of a few billionths of a second, almost a million times faster than a normal camera. The H.E.S.S. II camera – with an area of the size of a garage door and a weight of almost 3 tons – is “flying” 36 meters above the primary mirror in the focal plane – at the height of a 20-story building when pointing up. Despite its size, the new telescope will be able to slew twice as fast as the smaller telescopes to immediately respond to fast and transient phenomena such as gamma ray bursts anywhere in the sky. The telescope structure and its drive system were designed by engineers in Germany and South Africa, and produced in Namibia and Germany. The 875 hexagonal mirror facets which make up the huge reflector were manufactured in Armenia, and individually characterized in Germany. The mirror alignment system results from a cooperation of German and Polish institutes. The camera, with its integrated electronics, was designed and built in France. The construction of the new H.E.S.S. II telescope was driven and financed largely by German and French institutions, with significant contributions from Austria, Poland, South Africa and Sweden. “The successful commissioning of the new H.E.S.S. II telescope represents a big step forward for the scientists of H.E.S.S., for the astronomical community as a whole, and for Southern Africa as a prime location for this field of astronomy” - so Werner Hofmann, spokesperson of the project – “H.E.S.S. II also paves the way to the realization of CTA – the Cherenkov Telescope Array— the next generation instrument ranked top priority by astroparticle physicists and funding agencies in Europe”. The H.E.S.S. observatory has been operated for almost a decade by the collaboration of more than 170 scientists, from 32 scientific institutions and 12 different countries: Namibia and South Africa, Germany, France, the UK, Ireland, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Armenia, and Australia. To date, the H.E.S.S. Collaboration has published over 100 articles in high-impact scientific journals, including the top-ranked ‘Nature’ and ‘Science’ journals. H.E.S.S. was awarded in 2006 the Descartes Prize of the European Commission - the highest recognition for collaborative research - and in 2010 the prestigious Rossi Prize of the American Astronomical Society. In a survey in 2006, H.E.S.S. was ranked the 10th most influential observatory worldwide, joining the ranks with the Hubble Space Telescope or the telescopes of the European Southern Observatory ESO in Chile. For more information, see: H.E.S.S. home page and more information about the Cherenkov technique and the H.E.S.S. telescopes and about the physics of gamma sources studies with H.E.S.S. [  return to index ]

HOT TOPIC | Everyone’s talking about… Cooperation in archaeology France and South Africa have established a strong partnership in archaeological cooperation, with numerous exchanges between French and South African laboratories, expert missions and exhibitions.

Fossilized teeth reveal what hominids had on their braai A royal South African feast has long since consisted of a few lamb chops on the fire but, how exactly did our ancient ancestors – the homonids - feast? The Australopithecus, Paranthropus and Homo¹, which lived in South Africa around two million years before our era, maintained very different diets. This is what researchers from WITS University, the Lyon Laboratory of Geology (CNRS / ENS Lyon / Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1) and the Laboratory of Molecular Anthropology and Synthetic Imaging (CNRS / University Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier / University of Strasbourg) have just established through the analysis of teeth found in this region. These results, which have been published online and which will appear in Nature later in 2012, have shed some light on the biological and social aspects of human evolution. Since the late 1930s, hominid fossils have been discovered regularly in South Africa. Australopithecines flourished here before the Paranthropus and Homo. But all these remains come from the same archaeological sites. A team of biologists and geochemists have succeeded in reconstructing the food trends of these three types of hominids. To do this, the researchers focused on the strontium and barium content in the tooth enamel of the fossils of many of these individuals. The higher the position of a mammal on the food chain, the more the levels of these two elements decrease in its biological tissues, including in this part of the teeth. The originality of this study lies in researchers’ use of the laser ablation technique, which was employed to establish these measures. This was done by directing the laser beam along the growth prisms of tooth enamel, allowing the reconstruction of the changes in diet of each individual during a period of his life. The result shows that the Australopithecines had a much more varied diet than that of the other two types of hominids. The Paranthropus were found to be what we today would call a vegan or vegetarian, as a study of their facial and dental anatomy would have suggested, while Homo are found to have lived off a protein-rich diet like most modern-day South African men. Researchers further measured the isotopic composition of strontium content in these samples. This parameter is characteristic of the geological substratum on which animals live. And there again, the conclusion is clear: all hominids studied lived in the same region, not far from the caves where fossils are found today. Pieces of the ecological puzzle therefore fall into place. About 2 million years ago, the “opportunistic” mealtime behaviour of the Australopithecus (which ate anything they found: animal carcasses, berries, etc…) gave way to the more “expert” behaviour of the Paranthropus and Homo, each more sophisticated than their common ancestor. Indeed, Paranthropus consumed only plants that could be considered very tough (roots, bulbs) while Homo, probably aided by their stone tools, lived mainly off hunting. These two species coexisted for almost a million years before the former disappeared for unknown reasons. This research was funded by the CNRS and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

__________________________________________________________________________________________ ¹Australopithecus, Paranthropus and Homo are three types of hominids: Australopithecus is an extinct hominid that lived between 4 million and 2 million years before our era. Paranthropus is an extinct genus of hominid having lived in Africa between about 2.5 and 1.2 million years ago. Homo is the genus which includes modern humans and related species. The genus has been present for about 2.3 to 2.4 million years. All species of the genus Homo, except for Homo sapiens, are today extinct.

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CLOSING DATE (South Africa) : 23 SEPTEMBER 2012 CLOSING DATE (France) : 21 SEPTEMBER 2012 The French Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Higher Education and Research have just announced the opening of the call for projects for the 2013 edition of the PROTEA programme, in partnership with the South African National Research Foundation (NRF). PROTEA was created to develop the relationship between the French and South African scientific communities through joint research. The purpose of the co-operative programme is to encourage an exchange between researchers and to develop a synergy between the two scientific communities, thereby developing a durable network. Research projects funded under this agreement are developed and submitted in both countries by French and South African researchers, working as partner teams and headed by two team leaders, one French and one South African, who bear the main responsibility for the project, including its technical and administrative coordination as well as scientific and financial reporting. In South Africa, this call is open to MSc-holding (preferable PhD) researchers residing in the country and affiliated with a recognised higher education or research institution such as a university, university of technology or science council. Each collaborative research project will run for a maximum duration of two years and should aim to fulfil welldefined contractual objectives. Projects should dispose of the necessary means to ensure that these objectives are effectively achieved. Particular emphasis is to be placed on the training of students and young researchers achieved through research and the transfer of knowledge and know-how aimed at socio-economic community development. Industrial and institutional partners involved in the projects or in the communication of its results should be officially mentioned and recognised. The integration of young researchers and students, and the exchange of post-doctoral researchers are encouraged, as is the involvement of students and researchers from previously-disadvantaged communities. Each project financed will undergo a final evaluation in order to examine its outputs and compare the results achieved with the objectives set out at the beginning of the project. Download the full announcement >> Visit the NRF website >> Note that both scientific and financial reporting on the project is an obligatory condition for continued funding [ ďƒą return to index ]

BURSARIES & SCHOLARSHIPS | Research and Tertiary Studies IMPORTANT iNFO **Application deadline** No later than 3 months before the envisioned date of departure for France

Downloads SAFeThink brochure >> 2012 application forms for Research bursaries

The SAFe Think programme was launched in 2010 with the view of strengthening the connections between South African academic institutes and Think Tanks and their French counterparts, specifically in the fields of Human and Social Sciences. By assisting research partners in establishing sustainable cooperation, the French government aims at facilitating the integration of South African research and policy-oriented institutions into French, European and francophone African scientific networks. SAFe Think is both directed at South African students and researchers : The graduate programme seeks to fund outstanding students wishing to undertake a Master’s degree at a French University. The programme further finances international collaborations of PhD candidates and researchers currently employed by one of our partner Think Tanks. The bursaries cover tuition fees, living costs, a roundtrip airflight ticket, visa fees and full medical and social insurance. The French government is pleased to launch the 2012’s edition of the SAFe Think Programme ! Applications for these funding opportunities are made through our partner research and policy-oriented institutes. Selection is carried out by the French Embassy, together with the South African Think Tanks involved in the project.

Contacts Ms Cyrielle MAINGRAUD /

Follow SAFeThink on Facebook >>

Our Partners

IN THE MARKET  INRA is recruiting

FRENCH NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH Ranked the number one agricultural institute in Europe and number two in the world, INRA (National Institute for Agricultural Research - France) carries out mission- oriented research for high-quality and healthy foods, competitive and sustainable agriculture and a preserved and valorised environment.

INRA is recruiting 53 experienced scientists proficient in designing and implementing research projects. > 6 Experienced Research Scientists (CR1) These positions are open: - either to candidates with a PhD (or equivalent) and at least 4 years' experience in research, - or to candidates who can justify an equivalent level of research. The fields of research of the candidates' projects must concern food and nutrition, agriculture or the environment > 47 Research Directors (DR2) These positions are open: - either to candidates with a PhD (or equivalent) and at least 8 years' experience in research, - or to candidates who can justify an equivalent level of scientific research. The research projects should focus on agronomy and the environment, social and economic sciences, digital sciences, ecology, animal and plant health, animal and plant genetics and physiology, human nutrition, food safety and process engineering, research management. Applications are available until 3rd September 2012. All useful information to apply is available on: (see”Join us”). For further details: For more information about INRA, visit their website >>

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News in Science and Technology in France E-Tech France Number 271

Robots, Cameras, Plants and... Sustainable Agriculture

© Christophe Salon/INRA

It's almost like being in a sci-fi movie. Picture a large sort of building enclosing modular greenhouses and air-conditioned containment rooms wherein the aerial and root parts of thousands of plants (some ferried to the rooms from their growing area by

robots) are filmed by cameras in different wavelengths! Welcome to the Platform for High Throughput Plant Phenotyping (PPHD) in Dijon that will be inaugurated on July 6. The one-of-a-kind platform will provide researchers at the Joint Unit for Agro-ecology Research

(INRA/CNRS/University of Burgundy/AgroSup Dijon) and the national and international scientific community with high-tech equipment to produce plant matter in perfectly controlled conditions and to characterize it with nondestructive methods. Read more >> [  return to index ]

Virtual Reality Serving Education - A Promising Tool

At the CEA/LIST Department of Ambient Intelligence and Interactive Systems (DIASI), researchers at the Interactive Simulation laboratory (LSI) are working on simulation. In other words, they are interactively reproducing physical phenomena, with a view to enabling a human operator to visualize as well as interact with the phenomena. Interactive simulation has a huge advantage in the field of virtual reality. This explains a 42-month project, which has just been completed, that was undertaken

as part of the Descartes project headed by Thales, accredited by the Systematic Paris Region competitive cluster and funded in part by the FUI (government agency funding industrial R & D projects). Working with firefighters at the CEA center at Fontenay-auxRoses, LSI researchers engineered a tool immerses users into the environment of an RER (Regional Express Line) train set where an accident has occurred, move around and reconnoiter the accident site by the light of a headlamp on their helmet. Read >>

Firefighter avatar on a virtual RER train set © CEA [  return to index ]

News in Science and Technology in France E-Tech France Number 271

Arts et Métiers ParisTech Now in the USA

Rizlene Bouchemoua, Permanent Arts et Métiers ParisTech Representative to the US

© Arts et Métiers ParisTech

The reputation for excellence of a more than two century-old school such as Arts et Métiers ParisTech (ENSAM) has long been established. Its history, alumni (the renowned Gadzarts, some who made brilliant contributions to several major industrial developments in France and abroad) and the quality of its courses at its different centers scattered throughout France is sufficient proof. Nevertheless, however well-founded its reputation, it is not often visible to the population of much-courted foreign students at a time of globalization. Furthermore, would it be timely for an American

student who could enroll in distinguished schools such as MIT, Caltech, Princeton or UC Berkeley in his or her own country, to register for a course at a French Grande Ecole, however renowned, not to mention that the student's mother tongue is the language of science and technology? Yet, should one just give up and accept this state of things? Working with the Office of the Paris Ile-de-France Regional Development Agency, Arts et Métiers ParisTech has decided to move in another direction by appointing a permanent representative to the United States and sending her to San Francisco, a first! Read more >> [  return to index ]

Education Outlook New Industrial Chair on Oxy-Combustion

For the Air Liquide Group, oxy-combustion is a promising solution that uses oxygen instead of air for combustion processes. When combined with a CO2 purification process, the technology produces CO2, which is ready to be captured, stored or directly reused, thus clearing the way for the decarbonized production of steam and electricity. This explains why the industrial group, Ecole Centrale Paris and CNRS have just announced the creation of an industrial education and research chair in oxy-combustion. Initially planned for a six-year period, the Chair has received funding from ANR (French National Research Agency). [  return to index ]

Microprocessors - Smaller Size and Higher Efficiency Thanks to New Ultra-thin Films

Of course, researchers are now working on devising new generations of microprocessors. But they cannot do so until lithography, the technique used for printing electronic circuits, changes. Until now, the thin films in electronic circuits have been designed from synthetic polymers exclusively derived from petroleum. However, the thin films cannot go beyond a minimum structural resolution of about 20

nanometers. So, researchers from the team headed by Redouane Borsali, CNRS Senior Researcher at CERMAV (Research Center on Plant Macromolecules) came up with the idea of using a hybrid material they had engineered. The copolymer combines sugar-based and petroleum-derived (polystyrenesilicon) polymers with widely different physical/chemical characteristics. Read more >>

Atomic force microscopy image of a glycopolymer nano-organized into sugar cylinders in a polystyrene-silicon matrix © CERMAV (CNRS) [  return to index ]

News in Science and Technology in France E-Tech France Number 271

Green Light for the EUCLID Space Mission !

Artist's rendering of Euclid © ESA – C. Carreau

While the expansion of the Universe predicted by the Big Bang theory has been confirmed by the observation of the galaxies moving away from one another, it appears to be accelerating over time. The discovery, which gained its authors a Nobel Physics Prize in 2011, is

surprising as it cannot be explained by current theories. Researchers thought that the expansion should be stable or slowing down due to the effects of gravitation. This is when the expression 'dark energy' was coined for the mysterious component accounting for 73% of

of the Universe together with an additional 23% made of the equally mysterious 'dark matter' whose effects can be observed on a large scale. The disturbing discovery then kindled the emergence of numerous ideas to understand dark energy. Read more >> [  return to index ]

Silkmoth Antennae as a Model for Explosive Detectors

What is the connection between the silkmoth and the highly efficient explosive detection system designed by researchers at the Nanomaterials for Systems under Extreme Stress (CNRS/ FrenchGerman Research Institute of Saint-Louis) working with the Laboratory of Materials, Surfaces and Processes for Catalysis (CNRS/Strasbourg University)? Simply this, the researchers drew their inspiration from silkmoth antennae to devise an amazing system that can detect trinitrotoluene (TNT) to the order of 800 ppq (part per quadrillion), i.e. 800 molecules of explosive per 1015 molecules of air! Their achievement is remarkable indeed when one knows that they were able to improve the current threshold by a factor of 1,000. Read more >> Above left : Overview of the micro-cantilever nanostructured by aligned titanium dioxide nanotubes

© Fabien Schnell/NS3E Left : Close-up of the forest of TiO2 nanotubes

© Fabien Schnell/NS3E [  return to index ]

For more information on Scientific and University Cooperation between France and South Africa, kindly contact :

Dr Pierre Lemonde, Attaché for Science and Technology at the French Embassy in Pretoria  012 425 1713  or Ms Bianca Naudé, Assistant to the Department for Cooperation  012 425 1710  Stock images used in this newsletter courtesy of All other photos are the property of the institutions or individuals mentioned below the image and are subject to copyright. If you no longer wish to receive this newsletter, please let us know.

SciTech Watch #5/2012  

The official scientific e-newsletter of the French Embassy in Pretoria.

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