For ten years, Tastes of Nuclear Physics has served as one of South Africa’s most successful conferences on fundamental nuclear physics and applications, providing world-class exposure to African students coming from historically disadvantaged backgrounds. And nobody knows that better than Georgia Institute of Technology’s Professor John Wood, who has attended every single Tastes of Nuclear Physics session over the last decade.
“We have a photograph each year - all of us who attend Tastes, lined up, shoulder to shoulder - from all nations, creeds, colours,” he said. “When you see all that cultural diversity, of people united in appreciation of science - you can’t put that feeling into words. It’s just incredible - and I think it’s perhaps one of the greatest achievements in my professional career.”
There won’t be a photo like that this time around, thanks to the ongoing pandemic - the University of the Western Cape’s Tastes of Nuclear Physics X conference from 30 November to 4 December 2020 will take place virtually this year. But the spirit of Tastes lives on.
“Tastes of Nuclear Physics, is now a decade long tradition,” Prof Wood remarked. “Despite being in unprecedented times the continuity will not be broken, and while the leaders in the field and the students will not meet, the number and stature of the contributors indicates that “word has got round” that Tastes is a vital process.”
World-class researchers from Cape Town to California - including local scientists and students from UWC, UniZulu, Nelson Mandela, Johannesburg, iThemba LABS and Stellenbosch University, and world expert in the experimental study of nuclear structure physics Prof John Wood - will be delivering interactive lectures on explosive astrophysics, machine learning in nuclear physics and experiments at the world’s largest scientific laboratory.
But it’s not just about the lectures - it’s about the spirit of science as well:
Sowing The Seeds Of Science -And Changing The World“Tastes of Nuclear Physics is a meeting between a small number of leaders in the field and a large number of students in an environment where we can get to know each other, and we share what - and how - we think,” said Prof Wood.
Nuclear physics is both a fundamental level of organisation of matter and a discipline with a wide range of techniques and the many facets of complex systems. Mastering the techniques of study equips the investigator with skills that open doors to many jobs - energy generation, medical imaging, materials characterisation. Mastering the fundamental level of organisation of matter manifested in the atomic nucleus equips the student with a global view of complex systems.
“The students in South Africa are every bit as smart as the students at Georgia Tech,” Prof Wood noted. “But they come with something that very few Georgia Tech students possess: most South African students have ‘climbed a much higher mountain’ to reach the level at which I experience them; they are already well equipped with the mountaineering skills of life. My job is just to be one of the rock-climbing instructors that shows them how they can ascend the tricky bit that comes near the top.”
So what would bring him back to the same conference year after year?
“I come to Tastes at UWC because it’s a fantastic place to visit - and each year I get to go to this wonderful meeting, interact with students, work with young people. I get to show them things - and learn from them as well,” he said. “I only had to meet the students the first time and I resolved to maintain my commitment as long as I can get myself to SA.”
Ultimately, it’s about helping to raise a new generation of nuclear physicists who will take their skills and use them to change the world.
“When you sow seeds, you want to put the seeds where they will grow the best - and here in South Africa, the young people can make a tremendous difference with their knowledge. And Tastes will help them sample what the future holds for them.”
Tastes of Nuclear Physics X #TNP2020 takes place virtually from 30 November to 4 December 2020. For a full list of world class speakers, the programme, a Book of Abstracts and much more content about the upcoming event, visit the Tastes of Nuclear Physics website at http://nuclear.uwc.ac.za/index.php/tastes-of-nuclear-physics/ .