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The Department of Physics at UWC distinguishes itself as a major contributor to the research needs both regionally and nationally.

The Materials Science/Solid State Physics group specialises in thin film research and studies the following application areas: photovoltaics, superconductors, bioceramics coatings and metal-semiconductor interactions.

UWC Physics has the only solar cell (photovoltaic) research group in the region, and among the few in the country. We are one of only two groups in the country with expertise in high temperature superconducting materials research. Prof. Igor Krylov, is world renown for his work in high temperature superconductors.


  • Prof. Dirk Knoesen, Prof. C.J. Arendse and Dr S. Halindintwali- Photovoltaics.
  • Prof. M. B. T. Tchokonte - Superconducting materials.
  • Prof. Reginaldt Madjoe and Mr. T. Muller- Metal-semiconductor interactions.

Current Projects:

  • Strongly Correlated Electron Systems. Dr. M.B.T. Tchokonte
  • Study of Thin Film Amorphous and Nano-crystalline semiconductor materials. Prof. D. Knoesen and Dr S. Halindintwali.
  • Development and Characterization of Bioceramic Coatings. Prof. D. Adams and Dr K. Streib.
  • Metallization of Amorphous Silicon. Prof. R. Madjoe.

The Nuclear Physics group specialises in nuclear structure, fundamental symmetries and the development of effective and reliable nuclear radiation detection systems.
Click the links below for detailed information on the different projects.

This is the only research group on radon and natural radioactivity in the Western Cape.


  • Nico Orce, Smarajit Triambak,Robbie Lindsay, Paul Garrett, David Jenkins, John Wood and Elena Lawrie.

Current Projects:

  • Applied Nuclear Radiation and Environmental Geophysics.

Nuclear Physics at UWC

Fundamental Nuclear Physics and Nuclear Applications

The Physics Education Research group specialises in student learning. The group’s work has informed undergraduate physics course-design at other tertiary institutions nationally and internationally.


  • Assoc-Prof. D. Marshall and Prof. C. Linder (currently at the University of Uppsala, Sweden)

Current Projects:

  • Broadly, our research focuses on understanding students’ experiences of learning physics. Previous work in this area, framed by a phenomenographic perspective, has included studies of students' approaches to learning physics, their metacognitive development and students' conceptions of the nature of science (Linder and Marshall, 1998; 2003; Case and Marshall, 2004). More recent work has focused on the use of computer simulations in enhancing students' physics learning (Ingerman et al, 2007 & 2008).
  • Our current work draws on theoretical approaches to researching student learning that take a more socio-cultural perspective on learning (Marshall & Case, 2005). Examples include using discourse analysis (Case and Marshall, in press; Lesia et al, 2007), and narrative inquiry.
  • In our South African context, our research is motivated by the need to widen access to undergraduate science studies, and to improve the quality and throughput of our science graduates (see, for example, Holtman et al, 2005; Kloot et al, 2008).

The Electron Microscope Unit (EMU) at UWC was commissioned by Prof Dirk Knoesen in 1983 when UWC purchased its first Scanning Electron Microscope (Hitachi X650) and Transmission Electron Microscope (Hitachi H800). Both these instruments are still in operation and are functioning very well. The SEM is a 40 kV instrument equipped with Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy (EDS), while the TEM is a 200kV instrument. Both instruments have been fitted with a digital image acquisition system. Over the last ten years, more than a hundred postgraduate students have conducted research in the EMU after receiving training on our electron microscopes, and have subsequently graduated.

The EMU has recently acquired South Africa’s first new Field Emission TEM (the Tecnai F20) equipped with EDS, STEM (Scanning TEM), EELS (Electron Energy Loss Spectroscopy) and a HAADF (High Angle Angular Dark Field) detector. HAADF signals come from electrons which are elastically scattered and makes high resolution intensity imaging of single atom columns routinely possible, provided the probe size is sufficiently small (about 0.2 nm and smaller). EELS (or PEELS) on the other hand, utilises an energy filtering system for the in-elastically scattered high energy electrons, thereby allowing the user to gain qualitative and quantitative elemental information about the specimen, as well as structural information. Software for 3D reconstruction and resolution enhancement (True image) is also available. This new FEG TEM is considered a national facility, which implies that researchers from all educational research institutions in the country, have access to this magnificent machine.

The EMU also possesses most of the specimen preparation equipment needed to prepare samples for the SEM and TEM.
The EMU is currently being managed by Dr Basil Julies.

Current Projects:

  • Research activities in the Electron Microscope Unit at UWC include the following.
    • Nanoscience
      • Development of nanocrystalline silicon thin films
      • Nanomaterials synthesis and applications
      • Supported nanophase electro catalysts
      • Structural analysis of micro and mesoporous materials
      • The study of filaments in a hot wire chemical vapour deposition process
      • The development of a zeolite-modified biosensor or chemical sensor for the detection of environmental pollutants
      • Fabrication of nanoclusters by electrophoretic deposition
      • Characterisation of multiwalled carbon nanotubes
      • Characterisation of WO3 nanorods and ZnO nanostructures
      • Studies in nanolithography
      • The development of semiconductor devices on the basis of printed nanocrystalline silicon and related materials
      • Stress induced diffusion of point defects in crystalline and amorphous solids
      • Growth formation of single and multiwall carbon nanotubes (SWCNT and MWCNT) using the HWCVD process
      • Manufacturing of MEMS (micro electro-mechanical machines)- at CPUT
      • Lithium batteries and fuel cell materials
      • Hydrogen separation using membrane technology
      • Demonstration PEMFC and DMFC systems and composites
    • Advanced Materials
      • Development of photovoltaic material for solar cells
      • The development of an inorganic direct methanol fuel cell with a special emphasis of the development of membranes (inorganic and composite) with high conductivity and less methanol crossover.
      • The development of hydrogen separation membranes
      • Development of catalyst for steam reforming (hydrogen production)
      • Structural analysis of hydrogenated amorphous silicon films
      • Elemental and structural analysis of rare earth superconducting film
      • Structural analysis of fibre, yarns and fabrics
      • Development of new catalytic materials
    • Biological Studies
      • A comparative study between the bathyergus and the georychus capensis (i.e. mole rats)
      • The response of shallow water benthic foraminifera to eutrophication around South Africa, with an assessment of their utility as potential indicators of environmental health.
      • The effect of in utero compromise on fetal and neonatal lung development and long term consequences
    • Medicinal compounds and health
      • Observation of changes in the structure of compounds aiming towards improving the solubility of currently poor water soluble drugs
      • The effect of maternal nicotine exposure on fetal and neonatal lung development
      • Electron microscopy of developing rat lung and the effect of maternal nicotine exposure and the protective effect of copper.
      • A study of bioceramic materials for use in transplants
      • Studies involving changes in cellular ultra structure in pathological conditions e.g. H.I.V., TB, etc
      • Studies of ultra structure of normal cellular organella
      • Studies in normal and abnormal histological architecture
      • Visualisation of biological samples relating to different aspects of food technology.
      • Imaging and elemental mapping of biological material
      • Taxonomic research of foraminifera, porifera, bryozoa and marine algae
      • 3D Imaging of DNA and chromatin structure, protein/enzyme interactions, protein adsorption, bio-macromolecules, various cell morphologies, membranes and viruses.
    • Geology and Metallurgy
      • An exploration for Pb-Zn deposits in South Africa and an identification of minerals in ores mined in South Africa
      • Metal tracer studies in silicide formation
      • The analysis of metallurgical phases and transformation induced strains.
      • The effect of thermo-mechanical cycling on shape memory alloy microstructure.
      • Morphology, mineralogy, composition and phase changes in coal combustion by-products
    • Zeolites
      • Zeolites prepared from waste products
      • Characterisation and analysis of the zeolites structural properties
      • Developing zeolites for use in water purification and catalytic processes


The Astrophysics Group in the Physics Department is dynamic and rapidly growing, with six staff members, 11 post-doctoral researchers and 11 Phd/Msc students. The Group has won substantial funding from the South African SKA (Square Kilometre Array) Project. Group research is in observational and theoretical astronomy and cosmology, covering topics such as: stellar modelling, galaxy evolution, hydrodynamical N-body simulations of galaxies and gas, multi wavelength survey science, large-scale clustering in radio surveys, dark energy and modified gravity. The group is also involved in many of the projects planned for MeerKAT, the pathfinder telescope for the SKA, and in current projects on the South African Large Telescope (SALT), South Africa’s 10m-class optical telescope. Group members also participate in a number of international experiments.
Research interests: late stages of stellar structure and evolution, in particular Asymptotic Giant Branch stars; stellar oscillations, both linear analysis and nonlinear simulation; observational cosmology.



Galaxy Evolution

Instruments & Surveys

Machine Learning