Delegates at the Radio Astronomy workshop in Durban.

Undergrad Science and Engineering Students Exposed to Exciting World of Astronomy

High performing Science and Engineering undergraduate students from across South Africa attended a radio astronomy workshop in Durban hosted by UKZN, in association with the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO).

The workshop showcased exciting developments in astronomy with the aim of encouraging students to pursue master’s and PhD degrees in this field; thereby helping to address the low numbers of professional radio astronomers in the country.

SARAO, a national facility of the National Research Foundation, is responsible for co-ordinating South Africa’s involvement in the design and construction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, associated human capital development and commercialisation programmes. In addition, SARAO is managing the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) and the African VLBI Telescope Network (AVN) efforts.

UKZN was selected to host the workshop because it has a large number of astronomy students who have been awarded bursaries from SARAO. Furthermore UKZN, in partnership with the National Research Foundation (NRF), SARAO, and the Department of Science and Technology, is constructing a R70 million telescope known as HIRAX which will provide students with the opportunity to develop cutting-edge skills as well as access to engage in important research.

Students who attended the workshop were from a variety of fields such as Astronomy, Engineering, Physics, Mathematics and Computer Science. The workshop covered a wide range of astronomy topics such as black holes, building telescopes, radio astronomy and computing.

Students were able to get a better understanding of professional astronomy through interacting with renowned UKZN astronomers as well as Astronomy PhD and master’s students. ‘It was an amazing opportunity for undergraduate students to learn more about astronomy. I especially enjoyed learning more about instrumentation,’ said Ms Denisha Pillay, third-year UKZN Astronomy student who holds an Astronomy bursary from SARAO.

‘The workshop assisted in creating an interactive and collaborative community of students, local researchers and the SARAO team. This exciting event highlighted the importance of postgraduate studies in Astronomy,’ said Dr Mthuthuzeli Zamxaka, SARAO Research Capacity Development Manager.

For further information and images, contact Strini Rajgopaul on 031-2607138 or email: rajgopaul@ukzn.ac.za

Words: ACRU

Photograph: Justin Tyler