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7 July 2017
UWC physics students excel at SAIP Conference

UWC physics students excel at SAIP Conference

Every year, the annual conference of the South African Institute of Physics (SAIP) gathers together top physics professionals, academics and students to discuss cutting-edge technology and leading research, and reward up-and-coming young scientists.

The 62nd SAIP meeting, hosted by the Stellenbosch University Department of Physics from 3 to 7 July 2017, was no exception, with researchers presenting posters and papers that cover everything from astrophysics to nanotechnology, particle physics and more. And also as no exception: University of the Western Cape (UWC) once again excelled, with three UWC/iThemba Labs Master’s students enjoying the talks, learning new things...and taking home top prizes for their research presentations.

Nuclear physicist Khanyisa Sowazi, the Reeston, East London native, measures gamma-ray strength functions of heavy nuclei - one of the input parameters which are important in describing nuclear astrophysics reactions.

“Nuclear science helps us learn about the most fundamental workings of the universe - how electricity works, why the sun shines, why stars go supernova, and so much more,” he says. “And being able to make mathematical models and develop theories which describe the dynamics of the world around me is just fascinating.”

He also appreciates the travel opportunities his field brings - since joining UWC for his Honours in Nuclear Physics, he has been to Russia for a short project in nuclear physics, and even to CERN, Switzerland for a practical in the ISOLDE Laboratory. He plans to continue these big collaborations as a prominent researcher for many years to come.

Materials scientist Siphesihle Magubane, who hails from Ozwathini, KwaZulu-Natal, agrees that studying physics provides interesting insights about the universe. But he also appreciates how the knowledge discovered can help tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges.

“What got me interested in photovoltaic research more than anything is that it tries to solve some of today’s biggest issues - issues like global warming, which have a big impact on humanity,” he says.

Siphesihle plans to be a researcher and lecturer in South Africa when he’s done studying, passing on his passion for science and problem-solving to future generations.

“It’s 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 when things go according to plan and you’re actually observing what you’ve been seeking.”

Physics education researcher Sinovuyo Tanciwas actually attending SAIP for the third time (and receiving the presentation award for the second time in a row). Her research is based on investigating how first year-students solve problems using kinetic equations.

Born and bred in the village of Gqogqorha eMajwarheni in Tsomo, she finds physics to be a fascinating subject - and she wishes she could get some sense of that across to others.

“My choice of field was influenced by my own high school experiences - of the way physics was taught, and how it focuses on the maths and not the conceptual understanding,” Sinovuyo explains.

“Learners can leave high school knowing how to solve the equations they’re given, but not why they work, or how to apply them in new situations. So I focus on finding ways to encourage students to understand the background of the maths used, and to make sense of the answer they obtain after solving problems.”

Conclusive evidence: not only does UWC perform top-notch physics research - the University also manages to produce academics who love what they do, and try to give back. Physics really is a passionate science.