Dr Byron Brassel obtained his PhD in Applied Maths, pictured with his parents and brother by his side.

Gravitating Towards a Combination of Astrophysics and Mathematics

Problem solver with a curiosity in Astronomy, Dr Byron Brassel, obtained his PhD at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Hailing from the beautiful Seychelles islands, Brassel’s PhD research probed the dynamics of massive radiating stars in four and higher dimensions. It included studying the structure or geometry of a radiating star as well as its behaviour and finally the dynamics of its eventual collapse under gravity.

Brassel’s research obtained fundamental results in Einstein-Gauss-Gravity, which is one of underlying theories in modern physics. He has published in leading scientific journals such as Physical Review D.

After matriculating at Pinetown Boys’ High School, in Durban, Brassel undertook an undergraduate degree, a Bachelor of Science majoring in Mathematics, Applied Mathematics and Statistics.

After his undergraduate degree, Brassel completed his honours, summa cum laude and master’s with a cum laude in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (MSCS). Brassel was certain that if he continued his postgraduate studies at MSCS, he would have the opportunity to work with some of the top rated researchers.

After completing his master’s Brassel realised that he could combine the worlds of astrophysics and mathematics. This led him down the “fun ride” of his PhD research into general relativity and higher dimensional modified gravity.

‘Society has always had a curiosity and fear of the unknown. With astronomy it is certainly curiosity, but also wonderment. We look up at the stars with a large degree of awe, and when we were children, there was the notion of dreams attached to that too. One of the most beautiful ways to introduce and humanise science is to show people the cosmos,’ said Brassel.

Brassel described his doctoral studies ‘as an absolute joy that gave me opportunities to present at several international conferences and network with researchers from diverse areas.’

MSCS Research Chair, Professor Sunil Maharaj, said: ‘Byron Brassel always wanted to study mathematics and physics, and completed his BSc, BSc (Hons) and MSc with an outstanding academic record. During his doctoral studies he presented papers at international conferences in the US, Russia and India. He is a dedicated and remarkable student and a pleasure to supervise.’

Brassel received the Department of Science and Technology (DST)-National Research Foundation (NRF) Scarce Skills Postdoctoral Fellowship to conduct research at UKZN over the next two years under the supervision of Maharaj. He hopes to continue doing research coupled with teaching students and ultimately undertaking a higher doctorate.

He still finds time to write poetry and play his 7-string guitar.

Words: Leena Rajpal