College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Dr Sphakamiso Mlaba graduated with his PhD in Applied Maths with his parents support.

PhD Awardee Tackles Cosmology

Dr Sphakamiso Mlaba graduated with a PhD in Applied Mathematics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Mlaba, who hails from rural Kranskop, chose to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Mathematics and Statistics during his undergraduate studies because of his interest in Mathematics, Science and Physics in high school. Thereafter, he completed his Honours in Applied Mathematics for his research paper on Financial Mathematics (interest rate modelling). During his honours he received a merit certificate in Cosmology for his interest in Physics.

‘I then decided to do research in Cosmology (the study of the universe) for my masters which was supervised by Dr Sudan Hansraj with the help of Prof Sunil Maharaj from the Department of Mathematics,’ said Mlaba.

Mlaba’s research investigated the Einstein-Maxwell system of equations that govern the gravitational behaviour of charged spheres.  He said his research has a big impact on society. ‘Cosmology has a big impact on society without society even realising it. Humans have been trying to make sense of the universe and have been unknowingly proposing cosmological theories. The notion of a deity often plays a central role in these cosmological theories. With most religions, God is the sole creator and sustainer of the universe. But the last hundred years have seen a different sort of cosmology, a scientific cosmology. The notable characteristics of scientific cosmology are that it uses mathematical physics to make testable and precise predictions,’ said Mlaba.

Growing up in a disadvantaged community made Mlaba’s studies towards his masters and PhD very challenging.

‘During my undergraduate level I had to tutor part-time, just to help myself and my family financially. I worked hard to ensure that I could take care of my family and continue with my studies. I started working at South African Home Loans as a quantitative analyst graduate while doing my masters. Working and studying full-time was not easy.  I remember my friends telling me I had no life but for what it was worth, I have no regrets,’ said Mlaba.

Despite the challenges, Mlaba did not give up but instead persevered and overcame the challenges. ‘The fighting spirit in me didn’t allow me to quit and I soldiered on in order to achieve my goals. I know that nothing is impossible and that I’m a much stronger person because of my journey,’ he said.

Mlaba is currently working at First National Bank (FNB) as a quantitative analyst. He plans to continue working in the corporate environment in order to explore his analytical thinking and skills in the banking industry. He hopes to pursue his postdoctoral studies in Cosmology and later, return to academics to lecture and continue with global research in cosmological studies.

Mlaba acknowledged and thanked his family and friends for their great support and patience throughout his journey.

Words: Zolile Duma