The establishment of the ALC, in the spirit of NEPAD, follows from deliberations held during two continental workshops and various task team meetings over the last three years. The National Laser Centre of South Africa located within the CSIR, and the African Laser, Atomic, Molecular and Optical Sciences Network (LAM), based in Senegal, the National Institute of Laser Enhanced Science (NILES) in Egypt, Centre de Dévélopment des Technologies Avancées (CDTA) in Algeria, the Laser and Fibre Optics Centre in Ghana and Tunis el Manar University in Tunisia have already been identified as prominent contributors that will boost the ALC.
It is the intent that the ALC will provide laser researchers and industrialists throughout Africa with the requisite research and training facilities. Given the isolation of many researchers in Africa, the ALC will maintain a database of laser researchers in the region and facilitate collaboration amongst them.
Another important role for the ALC will be to transfer technology from research laboratories to the marketplace. The ALC will support research and educational programmes in laser technology and present conferences, workshops, and topical school programmes. It will further develop a research equipment programme where acquisition of and access to laser equipment will be facilitated.
"The ALC will be truly continental in its dimension," said the Minister of Arts Culture, Science and Technology, Dr Ben Ngubane, "and should provide Africa with the boost that it needs to propel its science and technology to the forefront of world competition."
Speaking at the launch Dr Ngubane stressed that if the ALC provided a competitive knowledge base and attractive research and development facilities, it could contribute toward reversing the brain drain in the African laser field, and the facilities should become preferred research environments for the international community.
He added that this network of excellence would also provide the required impetus for laser to benefit the people of the continent in order to make a sustained impact on quality of life.
In this context, lasers have experienced success in cataract surgery, glaucoma and cancer treatment, as well as TB detection. In the agricultural field, lasers have an important role to play in monitoring plant stress levels to improve crop harvests. Environmental monitoring of pollutants by remote laser will contribute substantially to improved quality of life. In the economic sector, lasers can contribute to improving competitiveness in the manufacturing and automotive sector specifically.
"What we need to do now is integrate the expertise that exists in various parts of the continent so as to create a body of excellence in laser applications," said Dr Phil Mjwara, interim chairman of the ALC and director of the National Laser Centre of South Africa.
"Significant progress has already been made in extending the expertise that the South African National Laser Centre and its Higher Education Institution partners can offer the rest of the African continent," he added.
The ALC has set itself the task of ensuring that this expertise will continue to grow and that emerging laser facilities are provided with the support required to develop into a world-class platform of excellence.