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.

Public Talks in October and November

Public Talks in October and November

In the next two months, we will be holding two fascinating Public Talks:

Deep Cinematography of the Whole Sky with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST)

On the 8th of October 2014, Dr Abhijit Saha from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Arizona will deliver a Public Talk on the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope is projected to come online in 2019 and begin a survey of the whole sky visible from Cerro Pachon in Chile. Read More

SKA, MeerKAT and more – radio astronomy in Africa

On the 5th of November 2014, Justin Jonas will speak on radio astronomy in Africa. Justin Jonas is the Associate Director: Science & Engineering, South African SKA Project Office, National Research Foundation (a joint appointment with Rhodes University). This talk will provide an overview of the strategies and initiatives that have led to Africa becoming a major “destination” for radio astronomy, and an update on the progress towards the completion of the MeerKAT and the design of the SKA Telescope. Read More