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I Am UWC: Khanyisa Sowazi, Nuclear Physicist Extraordinaire

I Am UWC: Khanyisa Sowazi, Nuclear Physicist Extraordinaire

The University of the Western Cape (UWC) is one of the best universities on the continent when it comes to the physical sciences, and especially when it comes to nuclear physics research. And that’s largely due to the work of great researchers like Nuclear Astrophysics MSc student Khanyisa Sowazi, who recently left the 62nd Annual Conference of the South African Institute of Physics (SAIP) with an award for ‘best oral presentation’ as an MSc student in the Nuclear and Radiation division - a repeat of his performance at SAIP 2016, when he won the same award.

Nuclear physics has taken him a long way from East London, where he was born and bred. Growing up in the dusty streets of a small township called Reeston, and going to a disadvantaged school called Sophathisana Senior Secondary School, he managed to pass his matric with distinctions in Mathematics and Life Sciences - and went on to the University of Fort Hare for a BSc in Mathematics and Physics.

Since joining UWC for his Honours in Nuclear Physics, Khanyisa has gone to Russia for a short project in nuclear physics, and even to CERN, Switzerland, for a practical in the ISOLDE Laboratory. And all the while, he’s kept up his tutoring of high school students (Maths and Physics, mainly) and conducted research at iThemba LABS (where his main supervisor is based).

So why does he do it? Here’s what he had to say about that...

What brought you to UWC?

I chose UWC because it is one of the best universities around when it comes to nuclear physics research, naturally.

What is your research all about?

To sum up my research, I measure gamma-ray strength functions of heavy [74Ge] nuclei, which tells us about gamma radiation cross sections of nuclei [Ge]. It is one of the input parameters used to calculate neutron cross sections - which are important in describing nuclear astrophysics reactions.

What is it about nuclear physics that you find so exciting?

I first became interested in nuclear science because we learn about the most fundamental workings of the world, how electricity works, why the sun shines, why stars undergo supernovae, and so much more. And being able to make mathematical models and develop theories which describe the dynamics of the world around me is fascinating to me.

So how was SAIP 62?

SAIP 62 was very informative, and I listened to many interesting presentations from other graduates from various universities. My favourite part was the plenary talks, where some of the best researchers in the world explained their current work, and the future of science as a whole. It was definitely a learning experience for me.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Well, I would love to have established myself as a prominent researcher - not only in this country but in the whole world, with big collaborations in CERN, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and Oslo (to name but a few). And I would love to keep learning along the way, naturally.

Any folks you’d like to send a shoutout to?

The are many figures I would like to acknowledge for their role in shaping me and helping me attain my successes. My late father, Tembile Mazitshana, who instilled in me a drive to love education, and taught me valuable principles to live by. Ntombine Mazitshana, who has been my legal guardian since I was ten. Nosithembiso Mazitshana, who made me fall in love with Maths from Grade 1. Anelisa Tomsana, who is both a girlfriend and my best friend - she’s been with me in good times and bad times, and has been my strength and my support system since high school. Xoliswa Tempi, who has always been there for me whenever I needed a second mother. And Samkelo Tempi, who has been like a big brother to me my whole life, helping me whenever I am in need.