Graduation 2019

Clockwise from top left: Denisha, Kabelo, Dalian and Scott

Our 2019 graduation was held this week. It was a happy occasion and the culmination of many hours of work. Below are links to articles about some of our students who graduated this year.

Sweet Tooth Leads to Passion for Astronomy

Who would have thought that Cadbury Astros sweets could spark a love of astronomy? But it did for Ms Denisha Pillay and eventually led to her graduating with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree cum laude, majoring in Mathematics and Astronomy.

Pillay’s passion for astronomy began after she started collecting astronomy trivia printed on boxes of her favourite candy – Astros, sparking curiosity about the universe. Read More

MSc Research Contributes to Ground-Breaking Radio Telescope

Mr Kabelo Kesebonye of Botswana graduated with an MSc in Applied Mathematics from UKZN’s School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science for work done on the HIRAX radio astronomy project.

‘Kabelo was the first student on the HIRAX experiment to receive his postgraduate degree,’ said his supervisor, Dr Cynthia Chiang. Read More

Multiple Scholarship Recipient Maintains Winning Streak

For those who know him, it came as no surprise when multiple scholarship winner, Mr Dhaneshwar Dalian Sunder, graduated with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Applied Mathematics summa cum laude. Despite taking an additional module, Sunder still managed to bag eight Certificates of Merit for his degree! Read More

From Engineer to Astrophysicist

Mr Scott Eyono was fascinated with computers and technology from a young age and with his father being a professor of Computer Science, technological problem solving became almost a family hobby! Thus it is no surprise that the young Eyono is now a proud UKZN BScEng (Computer Engineering) graduate.

Arriving at UKZN fresh from high school at Highway College in Pinetown, Eyono enjoyed his studies in the School of Engineering. ‘My undergraduate degree prepared me mentally, physically and emotionally. Although demanding and difficult, it has made a big impact on my life and opportunities,’ he said.

Eyono became adept at solving problems – both scientific and technological – and this growing interest in the interaction between technology and science has now led him to postgraduate studies in Astrophysics. He has registered for an MSc degree, specialising in astrophysics and, in particular, radio telescopes. Read More

Lead Student on Radio Astronomy Experiment Awarded PhD

Lead student on the PRIZM radio telescope project Dr Liju Philip – who specialises in radio astronomy – graduated with a PhD in Physics from UKZN’s School of Chemistry and Physics.

PRIZM is a new radio astronomy telescope that has been installed on Marion Island, one of the most remote and radio-quiet locations in the world, to search for the birth of the first stars. Read More 

From Electrical Engineering Degree to Honours in Physics

With a National Diploma and BTech degree in Electrical Engineering from the Durban University of Technology already in the bag, Ms Tankiso Moso has now graduated from UKZN with a BSc Honours degree in Physics sponsored by the National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme (NASSP).

Moso’s research project focused on the PRIZM radio telescope, a new radio astronomy telescope on Marion Island in the southern Indian Ocean being used to search for the birth of the first stars.

‘Tankiso is setting an inspiring example for others to follow,’ said her supervisor, Dr. Cynthia Chiang. ‘In transitioning to NASSP astrophysics, she overcame the formidable challenge of teaching herself several years’ worth of physics material while taking on honours level classes. I’m delighted that she not only passed everything but also received a certificate of merit in her physics research project class for her excellent work on PRIZM.’ Read more

Ecstasy as Chevarra Sets New Record

Ms. Chevarra Hansraj was over the moon to learn that she got 93% for her MSc degree specialising in general relativity – the highest mark ever recorded for an MSc completed in one year in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science.

In line with her undergraduate and honours degrees, the former Eden College pupil was once again capped summa cum laude. Read More

All images and articles from UKZN NdabaOnline

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Astronomers On Safari

Delegates at the 2019 Cosmology on Safari Conference

Combining a safari with a group of leading astrophysicists does not happen often but UKZN’s Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit did just that when they held another instalment of their extremely popular Cosmology on Safari conference. The conference was attended by local astronomers; as well as astronomers from Harvard University, the University of Cambridge, the University of Sydney, and many other leading institutions who presented their research, discussed problems and during their downtime, went on safari together. The Cosmology on Safari 2019 Conference took place from the 3rd to the 9th of March 2019 and was held at the Anew Hotel Hluhluwe & Safaris, near the popular Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game park.

An enormous amount of data about the Universe has been collected in the past decade. Therefore the conference was held in order to discuss relevant theories, datasets and the future direction of cosmology- the study of how the Universe is expanding. The scientists discussed fascinating topics such as dark matter and dark energy, supernovae, and the large scale structure of the Universe. Since the conference brought together experts in a wide variety of fields, the discussions that ensured were effective at shedding more light on these phenomena as well as generating possible solutions for important questions in astronomy.

The Conference gave South African postgraduate students the opportunity to interact with distinguished international research leaders in astronomy. In particular, students who are being trained to work on UKZN’s HIRAX telescope, engaged in face-to-face collaborations with colleagues based in the U.S., Canada and Switzerland.

“At the conference, a wide variety of topics in cosmology were covered by leading experts. A particular highlight for me was to see the latest results reported by cosmic microwave background experiments, searching for the polarised signal due to primordial gravitational waves” said UKZN astrophysicist and member of the local organising committee, Prof Matt Hilton.

HIRAX: Remarks by the Honourable Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane

L to R: Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, Vice-Chancellor: UKZN, the Honourable Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane and HIRAX Principal Investigator Prof Kavilan Moodley at the launch of the HIRAX telescope










The Honourable Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane delivered the following address at the launch of the HIRAX telescope last Friday:

Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, Vice-Chancellor: UKZN, and his Executive

Dr Pillay, Deputy CEO of the National Research Foundation NRF, and the NRF Executive

Dr Rob Adam, Managing Director: SARAO and his Executive.

Mr Takalani Rathiyaya, Deputy Head: Economic Development: eThekwini Municipality.

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

I am most pleased to be here today to launch the Hydrogen Intensity and Real Time Analysis eXperiment telescope project.

Last month we launched the MeerKat, which is a major milestone in the development of the Square Kilometre Array. When completed the SKA is going to be the largest Telescope in the world and it is going to foster collaboration amongst scientists from all over the world. Contrary to the narrow and prejudiced belief, science is not a museum of finished creations whose beauty should be credited to a specific group of people; it is rather an enterprise that is crafted from age to age, helping humanity to understand the universe better. As the eminent scientist, Freeman Dyson, observed in his essay called “The Scientist as Rebel” published in the New York Review of Books: “The vision of science is not specifically Western. It is no more Western than it is Arab or Indian or Japanese or Chinese. Arabs and Indians and Japanese and Chinese had a big share in the development of modern science. And two thousand years earlier, the beginnings of ancient science were as much Babylonian and Egyptian as Greek. One of the central facts about science is that it pays no attention to East and West and North and South and black and yellow and white. It belongs to everybody who is willing to make the effort to learn it.”

The project we are launching is a perfect example of the willingness of scientists from different parts of the work to learn and understand the universe through scientific tools. The HIRAX Project will seek to answer two of today’s most relevant questions in the field of astronomy – what is Dark Energy and what are Fast Radio Bursts.

The research imperatives of the HIRAX project include the mapping of the distribution of neutral hydrogen gas in the universe to learn about dark energy, finding new pulsars and probing the evolution of gas in galaxies. To tackle these research challenges HIRAX researchers will undertake a technical programme that involves building the instrument, carrying out science observations, analysing the raw data and scientific interpretation of the data.

The Department of Science and Technology strategic plan 2015 to 2020 has the following priorities amongst others: boosting our human capital development, for science, technology and innovation, with a special focus on transformation; promoting government, business and university investment in Research and Development; translating more effectively the outcomes of our investments in research into the development of new products and services for the South African economy. The HIRAX project seeks to establish an Interferometer Array telescope consisting of multiple dishes at the SKA Site in the Karoo desert, here in South Africa. The elaborate process of establishing this instrument will break-down barriers and create equity within the field of astrophysics by providing training through all phases of its implementation; including instrumentation development, instrument deployment, theoretical modelling and simulations and addressing Big Data challenges. Students involved in this project will be ideally placed to lead the next generation of world-class science projects. I was pleased to note that to date the project has trained 5 PhDs, 5 MSc and Honours students.

In addition to socio-economic gains through education, opportunities will extend to local industry through partnerships in various aspects of hardware development and instrument building. Much of the hardware will be developed and procured from local engineering firms, thereby growing the local manufacturing capacity in radio astronomy technologies. The data sets developed by HIRAX will lead to partnerships with the IT industry in the development of new algorithms for Big Data challenges. This project is a good demonstration of how we are making the priorities outlined in our strategic plan a reality.

The HIRAX project is aligned to the DST National Multi-wavelength Strategy (2016) as it addresses key scientific questions in each of the priority science areas identified by the Strategy, namely: Cosmology, Galaxy Evolution, and Stellar & Compact Object Astrophysics. Furthermore, HIRAX makes strong connections with the Strategy’s key programmatic areas in Human Capital Development and transformation, education and outreach, astronomy infrastructure and instrumentation, innovation, Big Data science, theoretical modelling and simulation, and international collaboration.

This project also compliments other South African led radio experiments to increase South Africa’s reputation as the world leader in Radio Astronomy. The project will have numerous synergies and complementarity with MeerKAT, thus adding significant value to a major SA investment, and further elevating the Karoo site as a destination for world-class astronomy telescopes. It will also compliment the HERA experiment as they conduct research in Hydrogen analysis.

Countries that have developed at a faster rate have always been countries with a strong innovation culture driven by investments in science and technology. Such investments are important in retaining and attracting the most talented researchers. The HIRAX project is a major international collaboration, with at least eight South African institutions participating, and many other international institutions. And I believe this is the best way that we can get our young people in South Africa to have an interest in science, technology and innovation.

Yesterday I spent a day with young high school learners from the rural part of this province. These are young and enthusiastic young children with lots of potential whose dream is to extract themselves from the poor conditions in which they live. It is my wish that they too can dream beyond their immediate needs and start to wonder about their place in the universe. The main reason for my visit was to help expose these young learners to careers that are possible for them in the area of science and technology. I told them that it is through their participation that our science and technology system will be broadened and enriched. The knowledge that we produce today will be their inheritance. I told them that “One of the central facts about science is that it pays no attention to East and West and North and South and black and yellow and white. It belongs to everybody who is willing to make the effort to learn it” and that they too can be the inheritors of the large body of science knowledge. The investments on research and projects such as HIRAX will produce knowledge that will form part of the inheritance for the learners that I have spoken about. I am simply saying that science at the end of the day is about the people in a community of humanity anywhere in the world.

As I said during the launch of the MeerKat last Month, to those who always wonder why projects like this are important, I will say to them in the words of the American cosmologist, Neil Tyson that “Space exploration is a force of nature unto itself that no other force in society can rival, not only does that get people interested in sciences and all the related fields, [but] it transforms the culture into one that values science and technology, and that’s the culture that innovates. And in the 21st century, innovations in science and technology are the foundations of tomorrow’s economy.”

I thank you

Taken from

HIRAX telescope project is officially launched.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) held a high profile launch for their groundbreaking HIRAX telescope today in Durban. The multimillion-rand telescope, launched by Science and Technology Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, will create cutting-edge South African science, stimulate economic and technological development and train students in critical skills. The HIRAX (Hydrogen Intensity and Real Time Analysis eXperiment) telescope will be located at the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) South Africa site in the Karoo and will have important synergies with the 64-dish MeerKAT, the country’s precursor to the SKA.

Jointly funded by UKZN and the DST through the NRF, HIRAX will be a compact radio telescope array of 1 024 six-metre dishes that will map about a third of the sky during its four years of observation. HIRAX will be able to determine the characteristics of dark energy during a critical period in our universe, between 7 – 11 billion years ago when dark energy became the dominant component in the universe causing it to expand at an accelerated rate. The main HIRAX array, combined with small arrays in partnering African countries, will be able to localize mysterious radio flashes called Fast Radio Bursts (FRB) within their host galaxies, a feat never achieved before. This will be a vital first step in determining the cause of these bursts.

The experiment will be managed by UKZN and is a result of a large global collaboration with at least eight South African institutions, and another dozen internationally. The researchers will undertake a technical programme that involves building the instrument, carrying out science observations and analysing the raw data. In addition, the project will work with industry to develop new technology and innovation, such as telescope hardware and big data analysis tools.

Speaking at the launch in Durban today, Science and Technology Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said that HIRAX will enhance the national system of innovation by building research and innovation capabilities in the country. “The project will help South Africa develop innovative solutions, particularly in instrumentation and big data processing, directly impacting other economic sectors through technology transfer,” said the Minister.

The Minister also welcomed the project’s contribution to human capital development, saying that training PhD students would contribute to the achievement of the target of 100 PhDs per million of population by 2030, and inspire the next generation of learners to enter the exciting fields of science and engineering.

The HIRAX Principal Investigator, Professor Kavilan Moodley, who is based at UKZN, said “The HIRAX project is exciting because we are working with a dynamic group of students and scientists that work on all aspects of the project, from building the telescope and analysing the data to scientific interpretation. We are aiming to use our competitive advantage of being on the excellent SKA SA Karoo site to have an impact on the study of dark energy and fast radio bursts.”

UKZN Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, said “The University of KwaZulu-Natal is very proud of its HIRAX team. This team has made a significant impact at a national and international level in terms of the importance and significance of the HIRAX telescope project and its synergies with the SKA initiative. This radio-astronomy telescope to be erected on the radio-quiet SKA site aims to describe the effects of dark energy on the distribution of galaxies. The project is led from UKZN by a dynamic young team of Astronomers that are breaking new ground and leveraging the SKA investment to grow a new generation of young astronomers in KZN and South Africa.”

Bumper cohort of UKZN Delegates participate in SKA conference

ACRU delegates at the SKA Postgraduate conference

A bumper cohort of students, postdoctoral researchers and staff from UKZN’s Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit (ACRU) recently returned from Cape Town where they participated in the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Postgraduate conference. The SKA funds astronomy and engineering students and postdoctoral researchers who have a record of academic excellence and an interest in working on the SKA project. This conference is a platform for these students and postdoctoral researchers to display their research.

The event is attended by a large number local professional astronomers and also includes many international astronomers. The UKZN delegation, which was the largest group in attendance, of any university, delivered excellent presentations with lead to a great deal of engagement with the audience. The conference provided an opportunity for the sharing of ideas and experiences pertaining to the astronomy landscape. It also allowed for future collaborations with local and international astronomers to be discussed.

Miss Sinenhlanhla Precious Sikhosana, an ACRU PhD student delivered an excellent poster presentation on “Diffuse Radio Emission in ACTPol Clusters” which is the subject of her research. Sikhosana said that the highlight of the conference was the question and answer session. “It was less formal, more interactive and people raised their views on how to make the conference better. We, as students, received constructive criticism from the senior academics,” she said.

Mr Kabelo Kesebonye, a current ACRU Masters student also presented a well-received poster on his work entitled “Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) measurements at a possible HIRAX outrigger site in Botswana”. For Kesebonye, the highlight of the conference was meeting other SKA postgraduate students and hearing about their projects. “I got to learn a lot about radio astronomy from just listening to people talk about their research,” he said. Kesebonye plans to study a PhD in astronomy so that he can further develop his instrumentation and research skills.

Dr Matt Hilton, a senior astronomy lecturer at ACRU said, “The annual South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) bursary holder’s conference provides a valuable opportunity for our postgraduate students and postdocs to gain experience of presenting their work. The range of work being done in South African radio astronomy is very impressive, from engineering to science projects that will be done with MeerKAT, and I was encouraged by the overall level of the presentations by the students and postdocs. The plenary talks organised by SARAO for this year were also excellent.”

ACRU member awarded DST-NRF Fellowship for Early Career Researchers.

Dr. Mathilde Jauzac

Dr. Mathilde Jauzac, a former postdoctoral researcher of ours from France, who is also one of our honorary lecturers, has been awarded the 2017 Department of Science and Technology-National Research Foundation’s Fellowship for Early Career Researchers from the United Kingdom. This prestigious fellowship was awarded on the basis of Dr. Jauzac’s current research entitled ‘Mapping Dark & Luminous Matter in and around massive clusters of galaxies’. The fellowship is awarded to post-doctoral researchers based in the United Kingdom who engage in high impact research and enables them to work at a South African research institution

Dr. Jauzac is using gravitational lensing in order to trace the total mass of galaxy clusters and then combines this with multi-wavelength observations in order to trace the ‘visible’ matter (stars and gas). Subtracting this from the total mass of lensing enables the amount and distribution of dark matter to be recovered. Comparing that with numerical simulations allows for the derivation of constraints on the physical nature of dark matter.

“The DST-NRF Fellowship represents an amazing opportunity. I’m really happy to be able to come back to UKZN and South Africa more generally, for a few months to work with the people here. It’s a really dynamic environment! “Jauzac said.

Dr. Jauzac is no stranger to the media. In 2013, she made international headlines when she used the Hubble Space Telescope to discover the three-dimensional structure of a cosmic filament associated with a different galaxy cluster. In 2014, her work was again covered by international media when she measured the mass of a merging galaxy cluster named MACSJ0416, to the highest precision yet.

Postdoc wins prestigious L’OREAL-UNESCO fellowship

Dr Kenda Knowles


Dr Kenda Knowles, an ACRU postdoctoral researcher was recently awarded a Postdoctoral fellowship by the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Sub-Saharan Africa programme.

Dr Knowles received this fellowship based on her current project: Statistical study of diffuse radio emission in ACT galaxy clusters with MeerKAT. The primary aim of this survey is to detect diffuse radio emissions in a statistically significant, uniformly selected sample of clusters which lie, in mass and redshift, beyond the currently and previously studied selection criteria. The study of the cosmological evolution of these systems, greatly improves on the currently limited understanding of these diffuse emissions. The research also has the potential to address basic current unanswered questions about the largest gravitationally bound objects in the universe.

Dr Knowles has achieved numerous accolades including receiving bursaries from the Square Kilometre Array South Africa project, winning the Doctoral Fellowship category at the 2015 Women in Science Awards and being selected to attend the 2015 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany, where she engaged with other leading young scientists from various countries.

The 2017 edition of the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Sub-Saharan Africa ceremony celebrated 14 young female scientists. As part of the programme launched in 2010, female scientists from across Sub-Saharan Africa were honoured for their work and impact in the scientific field.  Their fields of research vary across different disciplines and address key global issues. Sandeep Rai, Managing Director, L’Oréal South Africa highlighted the power of these women scientists and the women scientists who have been celebrated this year. “The world continues to face unprecedented challenges such as climate change, water scarcity, illnesses and food security among other issues.  Only a shared, controlled science, at the service of the world’s population, is able to meet the major challenges of the twenty-first century, and our researchers are the proof.”

Dr Knowles was ecstatic at receiving the L’Oréal fellowship, saying “I’m humbled to be a recipient of this fellowship, and I am extremely grateful to my mentors whose support and training have been a large part of getting me here. I am so proud to see the amazing research happening all over Africa by some dynamic and driven young women.”

UKZN to host 5th NRF Astronomy Advisory Council meeting-26th June 2015

UKZN will host the 5th National Research Foundation (NRF) Astronomy Advisory Council meeting on the 26th of June 2015 at the Westville campus. The Council is responsible for providing scientific advice to the NRF Astronomy sub-Agency, which is headed by the Deputy CEO for Astronomy, Prof Nithaya Chetty.

Ground breaking research, international academic collaborations and facilities such as the Karoo Array Telescope (MeerKAT) and the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) have driven the growth of astronomy in South Africa. The Council, which is composed of leading researchers will guide the implementation of South Africa’s Astronomy strategy which aims to further grow this field of science and thereby benefit both the local and international community. In addition, it will also encourage the production of important new research in various areas of astronomy and strive to increase the number of local astronomers.

ACRU member helps launch Antarctic balloon-borne telescope

ACRU member Dr. Cynthia Chiang, returned in January from a two month visit to Antarctica where she participated in an experiment called SPIDER that studied the earliest moments of our universe’s creation.

SPIDER consisted of six telescopes that were launched into the stratosphere with a giant helium-filled balloon, which swelled to roughly the size of Durban’s Kings Park stadium at its 35-km cruising altitude.  From this lofty height, SPIDER observed the faint, leftover heat from the Big Bang: this afterglow, known as the cosmic microwave background (CMB), contains valuable clues that will help unravel the mysteries of our universe’s explosive beginnings.  The experiment was built by an international collaboration that includes Princeton University, the University of Toronto, Case Western Reserve University, the California Institute of Technology and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the University of British Columbia.

Dr. Cynthia Chiang and SPIDER in Antarctica
Dr. Cynthia Chiang and SPIDER in Antarctica

The SPIDER cryostat in 2010 and some of the early team members (L to R): Miss Sasha Rahlin, Dr. Cynthia Chiang, Dr. Jon Gudmundsson and Professor William Jones
The SPIDER cryostat in 2010 and some of the early team members (L to R): Miss Sasha Rahlin, Dr. Cynthia Chiang, Dr. Jon Gudmundsson and Professor William Jones

 Dr. Chiang joined the SPIDER collaboration in 2009 as a postdoctoral research fellow at Princeton University. She was responsible for testing and operating SPIDER’s cryostat, a large vessel that houses the six telescopes and cools them to -270 degrees Celsius using 1000 litres of liquid helium. SPIDER was launched on January 1, 2015 and spent 17 days in flight.

 “I was absolutely thrilled to finally see SPIDER in the air.  It’s taken many long years of hard work and dedication from people across the globe, and collaborating with such a talented and cohesive team has truly been a blessing for me.  We’re all eager to see the data in full when the telescopes have been retrieved, and we look forward to facing the new challenges of sifting through our observations.  We at ACRU will be actively involved in the analysis, and we plan to continue collaborating on SPIDER for its second flight” said Dr. Chiang.