PhD candidate Gerard Leteba.
PhD candidate Gerard Leteba.

African researcher goes platinum

In a world where small improvements can equal big scientific and commercial gains, Gerard Leteba’s research is generating a buzz much larger than the nanoparticles he works with.

Gerard has successfully synthesized new platinum-based bimetallic nanoparticles not yet reported anywhere else in the world.  With significant commercial potential in many industries, his work is attracting interest in Australia, Africa and Europe.

Born and raised in rural areas of Lesotho – a small land-locked African kingdom with two million residents and just one public university – Gerard is now at Macquarie completing a jointly-supervised PhD with the University of Cape Town.

Despite his humble beginnings, Gerard has achieved great success with his materials engineering research, which brings both scientific and economic benefits.

“Bimetallic nanostructures that exhibit a high degree of surface functionality can be created for current and future industrial applications,” Gerard notes.

“New nanostructures will add extra value to the mineral resources sector – a major sector in Southern African and Australian economies,” he adds. “Industrial nanoparticle catalysts are also in great demand for pollution control and chemical processing.”

Gerard’s supervisor Professor Candace Lang agrees, noting that the development of new metallic nanoparticles is also particularly useful for hydrogen fuel cells and biosensors.

“My own work is in developing an understanding of how changes to structure can result in significant changes to engineering properties,” Professor Lang says. “Gerard’s work up to now has involved synthesis – how can we make nanoparticles with the desired characteristics?”

Examples of the platinum-based bimetallic nanoparticles Gerard has synthesized.

By completing a cotutelle (or joint) PhD, Gerard says he is benefiting from exposure to diverse educational and cultural environments, as well as accessing project materials from two different research teams on two continents.

“The cotutelle PhD offers high-quality training and an excellent experience for senior researchers,” he says. “It enhances my international and professional research networks as well as my career prospects.”

Gerard says he leapt at the chance to undertake research at Macquarie, with the support of an International Macquarie University Research Excellence Scholarship (iMQRES).

“Macquarie is one of the Australia’s headmost research institutions, recognised globally and producing researchers of high calibre,” Gerard notes. “There is an incredible professionalism at this institution.”

“Working alongside top-class researchers and accessing the region’s most advanced characterisation instruments provides me with a high-quality research training experience.”

“It will also give me a broader framework to exercise critical thinking in dealing with the current and future challenges in nanotechnology.”

Macquarie University hosts – or has a major node in – a number of leading research centres, including the Australian Research Council’s Centre for Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems.