Ms Kimara Naicker at the CERN facility in Switzerland.

Physics MSc Student Enriched by CERN Experience

Ms Kimara Naicker, a summa cum laude BSc Honours in Physics graduate, recently visited the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland as part of a two-month summer student programme.

The visit involved participating in the day-to-day work and experimentation of research teams at CERN and attending a series of lectures from acclaimed scientists from around the world. Students also visited the accelerators and experimental areas and participated in discussion sessions, workshops and a poster session. The programme exposed students to top-class scientific facilities and a multidisciplinary, multicultural environment and enabled them to form links with other researchers for future collaboration.

‘It has been an indescribable experience,’ said Naicker, whose trip was funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council. ‘For a physicist, no place tops CERN. This experience has developed me as a researcher, enriched my knowledge and allowed me to gain work experience that has taken me out of my comfort zone.’

Naicker’s MSc research involves investigating hyperfine interactions of 57Fe Nuclei in Ar implanted ZnO employing Mössbauer Spectroscopy as part of the Mössbauer Collaboration at the On-Line Isotope Mass Separator (ISOLDE)/CERN.

Her research is aimed at pinpointing the real-world implications of nuclear interactions which aid in forming understanding of the logistics of new materials.

She is captivated by her research because of the application of and beauty of the Mössbauer effect: the emission of gamma rays from nuclei bound in crystal enabling assessment of the energy levels of other nuclei.‘The world is a complex system full of limits and constraints on what one can do and as physicists, we aim to push the boundaries of what is possible and motivate others to do the same,’ said Naicker.

While at CERN, Naicker worked at the ISOLDE facility as part of the Solid State Physics (SSP) group, under the supervision of Dr Juliana Schell.

Naicker enjoyed the lecture series, social activities of the programme as well as the guided tours through CERN, complete with the opportunity to build their own detectors. The highlight, however, was taking part in hands-on experiments and working with a team using unparalleled infrastructure and equipment.

Her visit to CERN also involved work on a related topic that her team plans to publish in the Journal of Applied Physics under the title of ‘measuring hyperfine interactions of Ba doped Bismuth Ferrite (BBFO) using Mössbauer spectroscopy.’

‘We aim to introduce these materials to industry where – for the first time – BBFO can be used in the production of potential data storage and sensing devices at room temperature,’ said Naicker.

Her team will be the first to measure the hyperfine interactions of BBFO using Mössbauer spectroscopy.

She will return to CERN many more times to conduct further experiments for her Master’s and PhD work, and to work on collaborations between UKZN, CERN and iThemba LABS which is made possible by Professor Krish Bharuth-Ram.

Naicker credits God for her success in life.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph supplied by Kimara Naicker