Ms Tasmiya Papiah graduated with her Honours degree in Applied Mathematics summa cum laude after undertaking her studies through UKZN’s Astrophysics Research Centre (ARC), an experience that brought with it opportunities to attend conferences and research sites and complete a project on drone-beam mapping for the Hydrogen Intensity and Real-time Analysis eXperiment (HIRAX) radio telescope array.
Papiah attended Greenbury Secondary School in Phoenix and completed her undergraduate studies at UKZN, an institution she was drawn to because it offers an Astrophysics degree.
‘After I spoke to people who had attended UKZN and attended an astronomy workshop in matric and a talk by one of the astronomy lecturers, my mind was set on UKZN,’ said Papiah, who admired the University’s facilities and the level of education and dedication offered by staff.
In her honours year, Papiah was able to attend astronomy conferences across South Africa, her first exposure to conferences, and an opportunity to expand her knowledge of astrophysics and meet local and international experts in the field. This also helped her to hone her public presentation skills and confidence, which she initially found challenging.
Papiah was also able to visit sites including the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory and the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), which she described as a dream come true.
Her honours project involved drone-beam mapping for HIRAX that comprised a characterisation of the transmitting antenna. This involved intense work with instrumentation and some Python Programming, which equipped her with important radio frequency skills and even practical engineering skills such as soldering cables.
She said that her excellent results were because she found a subject that she enjoyed and a field in which she plans on building a successful career. A perfectionist by nature, she dedicated a lot of time to her studies before striking a balance that helped her avoid mental and physical burnout by still prioritising doing things she enjoyed and spending time with friends and family.
Continuing to master’s studies in the ARC is a natural choice for Papiah, who is extending her work on HIRAX by performing an analysis of drone-beam mapping data from the HIRAX testbed array, an important analysis for determining whether beam calibration can be achieved using drone technology. The HIRAX project aims to map most of the southern sky in radio continuum and neutral hydrogen line emission over a frequency range of 400 to 800 MHz.
Papiah is considering various career paths within astronomy, from pure research to applied astronomy or astrophysics, to specialising in data science or working as a radio frequency engineer. She is using her time as a student to explore all her options and aptitudes.
She thanked her supervisor Professor Kavilan Moodley for providing her with amazing opportunities including the chance to work on the HIRAX project, and Drs Anthony Walters and Mugundhan Vijayaraghavan for their assistance and training during her honours project, which taught her skills that will be applicable throughout her career. She also acknowledged her parents for their support, sacrifices and encouragement. ‘It is because of them that I am where I am today, and for that, I am forever grateful,’ said Papiah. She thanked her younger sister for being supportive through challenging times and thanked her boyfriend for his support, motivation, and positivity saying that he encouraged her not to give up on her goals and provided a voice of reason and a source of calm and growth.
Words: Christine Cuénod
Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan