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UWC Shines Brightest Of All In Physical Science

UWC shines in global assessment of Physical Science: From humble origins to one of Africa’s best universities

African universities are rising players in global higher education rankings, despite their difficulties – and the University of the Western Cape (UWC) is one of the continent’s great success stories.

From humble origins as a historically disadvantaged university, UWC has become one of the continent's top research and academic institutions. Just check out the latest assessment of research in Physical Science.

Nature - widely regarded as the top science journal in the world - publishes an annual index of peer-reviewed journal research outputs in the sciences. The scores are based on the number of papers in a select group of very prestigious high-impact journals, taking into account the percentage contribution of the university in each paper.

For the 2016 Nature Index, covering the period 1 June 2015 to 31 May 2016, UWC is ranked number 1 in Physical Science - not just in South Africa, but for Africa as a whole.

 For Physical Science publications, UWC stands head and shoulders above the rest of the African continent. (Score measured by fractional count, taking into account the percentage of authors from an institution and the number of affiliated institutions per article).

So how did UWC emerge as a leader in Physical Science in Africa?

One of the key factors is the growth of astronomy in South Africa and at UWC in the last decade or so. This growth arises mainly from South Africa's fantastic success in winning the bid to host and build most of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the world's largest astronomy installation, and one of the most powerful and advanced scientific projects ever conceived.

"UWC has built a world-class research group in SKA Astronomy,” says Prof Roy Maartens of the Department of Physics & Astronomy, who holds an SKA Research Chair. "We are making a major contribution to SKA research in South Africa and internationally, and this is reflected in UWC's top ranking in the Nature Index."

UWC is also home to two other astronomical research chairs, as well as the Centre for Radio Cosmology that aims to fully exploit the use of the next generation of radio telescopes for measurements in cosmology.

The University is also making strong impacts in other areas of physical science, including experimental nuclear physics and solid state physics.

"UWC is the only African university to be leading an experiment at the world's largest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider,” says principal investigator Nico Orce, Professor of Nuclear Physics, whose team is conducting groundbreaking research into the forces that hold nuclei together.

The solid state physics group hosts a multi-zone chemical vapour deposition system, unique on the African continent.

"This system allows us to improve the performance of silicon-based solar cells, while reducing the manufacturing costs,” says project leader Christopher Arendse, Professor of Experimental Condensed Matter Physics.

Physics For Future Generations

The study of Physics at UWC produces holistically-educated citizens who understand our rapidly-changing technological world. And the amazing success of UWC in Physical Science research also directly benefits students at the University, with over 50 current postgraduate students in the Department of Physics & Astronomy alone.

"UWC has given me the opportunity to learn state-of-the-art research techniques and to build international links for my research,” says Siyambonga Matshawule, a PhD student in astronomy who has recently been appointed as a lecturer in Physics & Astronomy. “And now I can assist in the development of more young scientists, helping them to contribute to innovation through science in South Africa.