ACRU MSc graduate heads to Princeton for PhD

Ms Heather Prince, an astronomy postgraduate student in the Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit (ACRU) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) has been accepted to study a PhD degree in Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University. She joins the prestigious institution’s Department of Astrophysical Sciences in September this year.

HeatherPrince received her Masters degree in astrophysics from UKZN in April this year and has since worked on writing up results from her Masters thesis work. Her research focused on gravitational lensing of the relic Cosmic Microwave Background light from the Big Bang and intensity mapping of light emitted by neutral hydrogen. Prince also studied what could be learned from combining observations of both these cosmic probes.

Gravitational lensing occurs when light is refracted or bent when travelling though portions of outer space. It is a phenomenon which helps astronomers understand how matter is distributed throughout the Universe. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and neutral hydrogen atoms emit light with a wavelength of 21 centimetres. Intensity mapping of neutral hydrogen is an observational method that allows astronomers to study how neutral hydrogen is disributed in the Universe. Prince’s research will form the basis for two research papers.

Prince who hails from Pietermaritzburg, discovered her passion for Maths and Physics while attending Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High School. In 2009 she matriculated as one of the top 10 public school learners in the National Senior Certificate examinations in KwaZulu-Natal. After completing a BSc degree in 2012 at Rhodes University, she became interested in astronomy which lead to her enrolling for a BSc Honours degree, specialising in cosmology, at UKZN in 2013. Prince was awarded this degree summa cum laude and proceeded to study a Masters degree in astronomy. After completing her PhD at Princeton, she plans to return to South Africa to continue her career by focussing on astronomy research and academia at a South African university.

Prince expressed her excitement about being accepted to study at Princeton University. “It is a dream come true to be able to study at Princeton and learn from the leading scientists in my field, in a department where top researchers from all over the world come to give talks and to visit. I am so excited about the opportunities that I will have to learn more and to become a world class researcher.” she said.

Prince is very passionate about her studies and this has motivated her to work diligently. As a result, she has received numerous accolades during her academic career including the Rhodes University Foundation Scholarship (awarded to the top student graduating with a Bachelor’s degree from Rhodes University), the Vincent Maphai Scholarship (awarded to the top-ranked Masters student at UKZN based on Honours results) and a bursary from the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) South Africa organisation.

When questioned about what she will miss about studying in South Africa, Prince replied “I will miss the people at ACRU. My supervisor and the rest of the staff, students and postdoctoral researchers have created a really great, friendly learning environment and I will be sad to leave that! I also really enjoyed the international environment at ACRU, with people from many different countries. I am especially grateful to SKA SA for providing me with support and funding for my Masters degree.”

Registration open for “Cosmology with Large Surveys” South Africa – China bilateral workshop

Registration is now open for the first South Africa – China bilateral workshop in cosmology, “Cosmology with Large Surveys”.

The workshop aims to bring together all relevant astronomers and cosmologists in South Africa and China, especially in the field of large-scale structure of the Universe and radio astronomy, to discuss science, new technological developments, and prospective collaborations.

The workshop will take place between 19 – 27 November 2016 in Durban. For more details, please visit the website.

UKZN PhD astronomer finds a new radio halo

Dr Kenda Knowles, a Claude Leon postdoctoral researcher at the Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit, has found evidence for a new radio halo in a low-mass galaxy cluster. Her paper on the detection, based on her PhD thesis work, was published this month in “Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society”, an international peer-reviewed astronomy journal (open access arXiv version of the article here).

For more details, see the press release by SKA South Africa.

UKZN astronomers discover mysterious magnetised radio burst with the Green Bank Telescope

A group of astronomers, including ACRU members Jonathan Sievers, Tabhitha Voytek, and PhD student Apratim Ganguly, have discovered a fast radio burst (FRB) using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. Only 16 of these events, which last for only milliseconds, have been found to date. This is the first polarised FRB to be discovered, which indicates that the burst came from a dense, magnetised region: possibly a supernova or star forming nebula. The results are published in Nature.

For more on this story, see the press releases by NRAO and SKA South Africa.

Artist impression of a Fast Radio Burst (FRB) reaching Earth. The colors represent the burst arriving at different radio wavelengths, with long wavelengths (red) arriving several seconds after short wavelengths (blue). This delay is called dispersion and occurs when radio waves travel through cosmic plasma. Credit: Jingchuan Yu, Beijing Planetarium

Artist impression of a Fast Radio Burst (FRB) reaching Earth. The colors represent the burst arriving at different radio wavelengths, with long wavelengths (red) arriving several seconds after short wavelengths (blue). This delay is called dispersion and occurs when radio waves travel through cosmic plasma. Credit: Jingchuan Yu, Beijing Planetarium

New ACRU member finds missing matter

A group of astrophysicists, including new ACRU member Dr. Yin-Zhe Ma, has perhaps solved a long standing problem in cosmology.

A number of observations tell us that only 5% of the Universe is made up of the ordinary matter that we encounter in everyday life (baryons), with the remaining 95% being made from a combination of the mysterious ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’. However, locating even the 5% of ordinary matter that is expected to exist has been a challenge – this is referred to as the “missing baryons” problem.

Using observations of the cosmic microwave background, taken with the Planck satellite, in the directions of galaxies identified in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the missing baryons may have been found. The motion of gas inside and around the galaxies indicates that these regions contain roughly half of the total amount of baryons in the Universe. If the spatial distribution of the ordinary matter follows that of the dark matter, then it seems likely that all of the baryons will be found in and around the galaxies.

The paper describing the study is published in Physical Review Letters and is highlighted as an Editor’s suggestion.

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Registration open for Cosmology on Safari (26-30 January 2015)

Registration is now open for ‘Cosmology on Safari’ (26-30 January 2015), a small conference which aims to bring together theorists and observers to discuss the challenges that remain in cosmology. The topics to be covered by the conference are:

  • The early universe: constraints on primordial perturbations, dark radiation, gravitational waves and inflationary models from the cosmic microwave background.
  • The late-time universe: constraints on dark energy, dark matter, theories of gravity and the nature of the primordial perturbations from galaxy redshift surveys, cosmic shear, galaxy clusters, baryon acoustic oscillations, type Ia supernovae and laboratory alternatives.

See the conference website for full details, and to submit an abstract.

Registration open for SKA Introductory Radio Astronomy School 2014

ACRU will be hosting an introductory radio astronomy school, on behalf of Square Kilometre Array South Africa, from 9-14 December 2014. The school is primarily aimed at final year undergraduates, Hons, and MSc students.

Several leading radio astronomers, both from abroad and within SA, will be teaching at the school, covering topics such as the radio sky, interferometry, and synthesis imaging. There will be several hands-on sessions where students will have the opportunity to develop their skills in the analysis of radio data and apply what they have learned in the lectures.

Registration is now open.

New BSc Astronomy Major in 2015

New world-class astronomy facilities such as the Square Kilometre Array and the Southern African Large Telescope require a new generation of South African astronomers to help uncover the secrets of the Universe. In light of this, the School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science and the School of Chemistry & Physics at UKZN will be offering a new Major in Astronomy from 2015. This Major will be taught by academic staff at UKZN’s Astrophysics and Cosmology Unit (ACRU).

The Astronomy major is part of a BSc degree in the Mathematical Sciences stream and includes five new specialised modules. Upon completion, students may engage in postgraduate research or enter a career in Astrophysics and Cosmology. Apart from learning about cutting-edge topics in astronomy, students will also acquire skills in statistics, data analysis, scientific computing, problem solving, and communication which are in high demand in a wide range of careers.

For further information regarding the Astronomy Major and available bursaries, contact Mr Strini Rajopaul  (tel: 031 260 7138).