College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

NRF B-rating for Quantum Physicist

NRF B-rating for Quantum Physicist

The National Research Foundation (NRF) has awarded Professor Thomas Konrad of the School of Chemistry and Physics a B-rating, recognising him as an internationally acclaimed researcher in his field.

The rating system benchmarks the quality of South African researchers, contributing to the enhancement of a globally competitive science system in the country and encouraging the production of high quality outputs in high impact journals and the training of the next generation of researchers.

The rating, which includes evaluation by local and international peers, is based on the quality and impact of their research outputs over the past eight years.

Originally from Germany, Konrad has been at UKZN for 12 years and says he has ‘fallen in love with South Africa’.

He said among the highlights of his early career was the opportunity while doing research for his master’s degree to work under the supervision of Professor Victor Brumberg of St Petersburg in Russia – the famed celestial mechanic who developed a new theory to calculate highly eccentric satellite orbits which Konrad was able to apply for the Mars 96 mission.

Konrad works in quantum physics with his interest recently branching out into the field of optics. Together with Professor Hermann Uys of the University of Stellenbosch he has discovered a scheme to control quantum systems that uses the peculiar property of atoms to be in different places at once.

‘It is a bit like a car that could drive with different power outputs from the engine simultaneously and cruise control just selects the right power output for uphill and downhill without changing gears, meaning less delay and overshoot in the control of the atoms than there would be for classical systems,’ he explained.

Konrad says the control of atoms and molecules is important for nanotechnology, quantum information processing and communication.

In addition to this work, he is investigating a new scheme for quantum teleportation that can transfer an optical image between two points without the image actually travelling the distance between both points – similar to sending a document by fax without a fax line. This kind of teleportation is necessary to transfer data securely within a telecommunication network while preventing eaves-dropping.

Another major achievement for Konrad was the development – in partnership with a masters student – of a simple formula to describe the decay of correlations in quantum channels, which was published by the Nature Physics journal to great acclaim. Konrad was also involved in finding a mechanism that allows the monitoring of quantum systems.

Konrad hopes to see many more researchers and students attracted to the exciting fields of quantum physics and optics in South Africa where he says there is much still to discover.

He acknowledged the teachers and students from whom he learned a great deal during his career, and gave credit to his late PhD supervisor, Professor Jürgen Audretsch, who taught Konrad ‘to think like a physicist’.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied by Thomas Konrad