I Am UWC: Siphesihle Magubane, Bringing Light To Photovoltaics
Studying physics isn’t just a fascinating way to learn about the universe (though it is that, of course). For UWC/iThemba LABS Master’s student - and South African Institute of Physics (SAIP) 2017 presentation prize winner - Siphesihle Magubane, it’s also a way of finding solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges.
The annual SAIP gathering (held this year from 3 July to 7 July at the Stellenbosch University Department of Physics) is one of the most important physics events of the year, attended by top physics students, academics and professionals who discuss cutting-edge technology and leading research. And it’s no surprise that Siphesihle was there.
Born in Osindisweni hospital in KwaZulu-Natal, he grew up in his grandmother’s house with his siblings and cousins in the village of Ozwathini, about 75km away from Durban. He matriculated from Lukhasa Secondary School, and went on to complete his first degree in Applied Mathematics and Physics at the University of Zululand.
In 2015, he joined the MatSci and MANus programme - a Master’s course that is organised collaboratively by iThemba LABS, UniZulu and the University of the Western Cape, and he’s currently doing a Master’s degree in materials science at UWC.
Here’s what Siphesihle has to say about all of that...
What got you interested in photovoltaic research?
What got me interested in photovoltaic research more than anything is that it’s an initiative that is trying to solve some of today’s biggest issues - issues like global warming and energy insecurity, which have a direct (and dramatic) impact on the human population and quality of life.
Why choose UWC?
The MANus/MatSci programme is divided into Honours and Masters degrees. So when I was doing my Honours degree as an affiliated student here in UWC, I got interested in the photovoltaic field, and I was very impressed by the work of the group led by Christopher Arendse, so I decided to enrol for my Masters degree with UWC.
What’s the best part of your work?
The most fascinating part of this work is to characterise after you have prepared your samples - especially when all has gone according to plan and you’re actually observing what you’ve been seeking. Of course, it can be a bit frustrating at times when things are not coming together the way you’d hope - but that’s just a part of the process.
If you had to sum up your research in one sentence, you’d say…
Photovoltaics research is an interesting yet challenging body of work that requires focus, determination and hard work - but if you’re willing to do that, it can be extremely rewarding.
What did you think about SAIP 62?
SAIP 62 was (as you might expect) very informative and fun at the same time, with so many interesting talks and people. One experience that really stuck with me was attending a talk titled “Physics in isiZulu: How far should we go?” I enjoyed being part of this talk because I could really relate to it, and I personally think that research around such topics is a great initiative.
So what do you do when you’re not working?
With everything that’s happening in this country right now, I’ve become very interested in politics - so in my spare time I try to catch up on what is happening around me by reading news, watching interviews and things like that. I also play soccer.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I think ten years from now I would like to see myself as an established researcher and a lecturer in one of South Africa’s universities. There’s a lot of good work being done in our universities, and a lot of work that needs to be done to improve the higher education system in this country, and I want to be a part of that.
Any folks you’d like to send a shoutout to?
I would really like to thank my family for the love and support they’ve shown me all my life, and that they continue to demonstrate every day. I couldn’t have come this far without their help - and I really appreciate it.