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9 October 2018
Rock Stars of Science Give UWC Students a Taste of Nuclear Physics

(Published - 9 October 2018)

Nuclear physics rock stars from around the world are taking centre stage at the University of the Western Cape from 9 to 12 October 2018 for Tastes of Nuclear Physics 8, delivering interactive lectures on how stars live and die, South Africa’s nuclear detection labs, and how to get gold from mercury through nuclear physics (among other things).

“Tastes is back, and we have lots of exciting new physics to share!” says Professor Nico Orce of the University of the Western Cape, who has championed Tastes of Nuclear Physics since 2011.

The University has hosted Tastes for the last eight years (with the exception of Stellenbosch University in 2016 - and next year, the University of Zululand will have the honour).

“Our objectives are always the same: to enlighten students about research opportunities, to educate attendees about the state of nuclear physics and nuclear astrophysics, and to entertain them by sharing the exciting stories of science. And this year we think we have the perfect combination for that.”

Students and post-docs from UWC, the University of Zululand, iThemba Labs and Stellenbosch University will also present on their ongoing research projects, in South Africa and beyond, and keep the experts on their toes with questions and discussions.

“This is a great chance to learn about nuclear physics, and especially the theoretical parts of nuclear physics,” says Durban-born Thuthukile Khumalo, an affiliated MSc student at both UniZulu and UWC, who presented on her thesis, Low-pressure focal plane detectors for the K600: A design study.


Thuthukile decided to become a nuclear physicist after she read about Madame Curie, whose groundbreaking work made her the first woman to get a Nobel Prize in Physics (she also won one in Chemistry).

“Nuclear physics is a difficult field, but it’s important, and it’s also interesting - what other subject brings together the massive, like exploding stars, and the microscopic, the elements that are the building blocks of our world.”

Science Stars: Learning From The Best

When it comes to understanding how physics can reach from the hearts of atoms to the hearts of stars, it helps to learn from the best. That’s why Tastes 8 features world-class academics like (in order of appearance)...

Dr Alejandro Algora from the University of Valencia, Spain will be discussing nuclear data for reactor applications, and how nuclear physicists produce gold from mercury to study deformation.

Professor Smarajit Triambak is the SARChI Chair in Nuclear Physics at the University of the Western Cape, and his experiments in low-energy experimental nuclear physics to probe for and set stringent limits on hitherto unknown physics.

Professor Sifiso Ntshangase lectures at the University of Zululand, and conducts internationally-recognised research focused on the evolution of exotic shapes in the actinides region as well as the synthesis of heavy elements.

Dr Daniel Doherty from the University of Surrey, UK, has been probing the structure and shapes of exotic nuclear with a variety of experimental probes - and will discuss the exploration of astrophysical environments at Taste 8.

Professor John Wood is an expert in the experimental study of nuclear structure with radioactive beams, and has been at the Georgia Institute of Technology, US since 1972 - and at each and every Tastes of Nuclear Physics.

Professor Steve Yates lectures and conducts research into the complexities of nuclear chemistry and nuclear structure at the University of Kentucky, US, and will explore nuclear lifetimes at Tastes 8.

Professor David Jenkins investigates the structure of exotic nuclei, the evolution of their shape, and nuclear astrophysics at the University of York, US - and will have much to say about nuclear applications at Tastes 8.

Dr Elena Lawrie is an internationally-renowned researcher at iThemba LABS - the largest accelerator based, multi-disciplinary research facility in Africa and the Southern Hemisphere.

Dr Rob Bark, the Radioactive Beam Project Leader at Cape Town’s iThemba LABS (Laboratory for Accelerator Based Science), will be discussing new equipment and experiments at iThemba.

Dr Hilary Masenda lectures and conducts research on magnetism, semiconductor, multiferroic, and catalysis at the University of the Witwatersrand, helped run the first African-led experiment at CERN - the most powerful laboratory ever built.

Prof Orce himself has led students and conducting research all over the world - and helped run the second African-led experiment at CERN (but UWC still received permission first), using some of the most powerful scientific equipment in existence to examine sub-atomic matter and reflect on what happens when stars explode...

“Nuclear physics is a field that’s crucial to fulfilling South Africa’s economic ambitions, and to discovering more about the basic building blocks of our world,” says Prof Orce. “We’re broadening our students’ horizons, giving them the necessary technical and theoretical skills to achieve excellence in whatever they do in life  - while at the same time helping us all see deeper into the cosmos.”