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Monday, October 23 2017 @ 04:26 am SAST

7 awesome SA inventions



The ‘computed axial tomography’ scan, or CAT scan, was developed at Tufts University in the UK by South African physicist Allan Cormack and Godfrey Hounsfield of EMI Laboratories.

LIFESTYLE NEWS - South Africa lays claim to many of the world's firsts. The list includes the CAT scan, the heart transplant and the ‘speed gun’.

Where would you expect to find the inventor of the CAT scan, the makers of the ‘speed gun’ used in cricket ovals the world over, or the world’s first oil-from-coal refinery?

There’s a wide range of innovative and entrepreneurial activity in South Africa, backed up by a number of organisations that provide support for budding inventors and innovators.

Some of the world’s firsts South Africa can lay claim to are the following:

1. The CAT scan
The ‘computed axial tomography’ scan, or CAT scan, was developed at Tufts University in the UK by South African physicist Allan Cormack and Godfrey Hounsfield of EMI Laboratories. Their achievement secured them the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Read More>>> Cormack’s interest in the problem of X-ray imaging of soft tissues or layers of tissue of differing densities was first aroused when he took up the part-time position of physicist for a hospital radiology department.

The two-dimensional representations of conventional X-ray plates were often unable to distinguish between such tissues. More information could be gained if X-rays of the body were taken from several different directions, but conventional X-ray techniques made this procedure problematic.

In the early 1960s, Cormack showed how details of a flat section of soft tissues could be calculated from measurements of the attenuation of X-rays passing through it from many different angles.

He thus provided the mathematical technique for the CAT scan, in which an X-ray source and electronic detectors are rotated about the body and the resulting data is analysed by a computer to produce a sharp map of the tissues within a cross-section of the body.

2. Oil from coal
Sasol is the world’s first – and largest – oil-from-coal refinery. It is situated in Sasolburg in South Africa and provides 40% of the country’s fuel.

The history of Sasol began in 1927 when a White Paper was tabled in Parliament to investigate the establishment of a South African oil-from-coal industry.

It was realised then that, because South Africa did not have crude oil reserves, the country’s balance of payments had to be protected against increasing crude oil imports. After many years of research and international negotiations, the South African Coal Oil and Gas Corporation was formed in 1950.

Major milestones include the first automotive fuel (1955), the construction of the National Petroleum Refiners of South Africa (1967) and the establishment in 1990 of its first international marketing company, Sasol Chemicals Europe.

Sasol has developed world-leading technology for the conversion of low-grade coal into value-added synfuels and chemicals.

3. Heart transplant
The world’s first heart transplant was performed by Dr Chris Barnard in Cape Town on 3 December 1967.

Barnard was born in the town of Beaufort West in 1922. The seeds of his future career were sown when one of his patients delivered a baby boy with a heart defect which could not be remedied. The baby died, causing him to think deeply about the need for remedial surgery and the replacement of heart valves.

A turning point came when Barnard was offered a chance to work in Minneapolis in the US under Professor Wagensteen, a great teacher of experimental surgery. The heart-lung machine was perfected, and this turned out to be the gateway to cardiac surgery.

The idea of transplanting occurred to Barnard. If it was possible with kidneys, why not the heart? After more years of study in the US, he returned to South Africa with a parting gift from Prof Wagensteen – a heart-lung machine.

Groote Schuur hospital was waiting his return in 1958 to start the first heart unit to perform a cardiac bypass operation.

After performing the first successful kidney transplant on Edith Black, in October 1967 Barnard informed Professor Val Schrire, who had built up the cardiac clinic: “Everything is ready for a heart transplant. We have the team and we know how to do it.”

In November 1967, Schrire called Barnard and told him that there was a suitable patient for a heart transplant. Louis Washkansky was suffering from heart failure and was prepared to take the chance. The rest is history.

Barnard passed away in Cyprus, Greece on 2 September 2001 from an acute asthma attack.
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