Using an Empty Packet of Chips to View a Solar Eclipse: A Lecturer in the Making

Mr Mthokozisi Mdlalose graduated with his Masters in Physics with the support of his family.

Mr Mthokozisi Mdlalose graduated with a Masters in Physics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. His passion for astronomy had previously earned him summa cum laude when he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Applied Mathematics and Physics, majoring in Astrophysics at the University.

Mdlalose fondly recalled how as a young boy he used an empty packet of chips as a filter to view a solar eclipse.

After completing matric at Sukuma Comprehensive School in Pietermaritzburg, Mdlalose pursued a Bachelor of Science (BSc) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).

In 2014, Mdlalose embarked on his BSc Honours degree in Physics. His exceptional results saw him scooping the 2016 UKZN Talent Equity and Excellence Scholarship award. Mdlalose effortlessly graduated cum laude with his BSc Honours degree in Physics.

‘Astronomy has been used for thousands of years to understand the connection that exist between earth, the solar system and the whole universe. The principle derived from astronomical observation has been used to develop a day-to-day life of human beings.  It was an inherited curiosity about the interconnectedness of the universe and the inevitable task to address poverty, inequality and injustices that propelled me to study Astronomy,’ said Mdlalose.

Thereafter Mdlalose set his sights on doing his master’s degree with Professor Jonathan Sievers. His research focused on the Quasi-Redundant Calibration. It was to look at how high sensitivity telescope and high precision calibration instruments such as the Precision Array to Probe the Epoch of Re-ionization (PAPER), Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA)  and SKA-low (located at Karoo, Northern Cape) is able measure the 21cm signal radiated by neutral hydrogen from a distance past around 100-500 millions after the Big Bang “the creation of the universe”.

Cosmologists will use the 21 cm signal to study the physics behind the formation of the first stars and galaxies, and further answer the question about the nature of mysterious dark matter and dark energy.

Mdlalose’s master’s research investigated the impact of instrumental imperfections that can potentially make the 21 cm signal measurement impossible. In addition, he employed a new technique calibration to mitigate those instrumental imperfections.

Currently Mdlalose is doing a PhD in Physics under supervision of Professor Yinzhe Ma and Professor Jonathan Sievers, exploring similar research but focusing on analysing real data from HERA-19 (located in SKA site, Karoo). His future goal is to complete his PhD by 2020 and then pursue a two-year postdoctoral degree. Ultimately, Mdlalose wants to lecture in the School of Chemistry and Physics.

Mdlalose was grateful to his supervisor, Professor Jonathan Sievers for his guidance and giving him opportunities to attend the Summer School programmes at the University of Pennsylvania and University of Toronto.

In his spare time, Mdlalose has a keen interest in Social Entrepreneurship. He is a founding member of the Afrikan Emancipation Student Movement (Afri-ESM) which is based at the Westville campus, UKZN.  One of his own ventures includes being part of a fast growing startup called Black Diamond Suit.

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