Ms Tankiso Moso (centre) with her family at her honours graduation.

Women in Science Award for UKZN Astrophysicist

Ms Tankiso Moso, a Masters candidate in Applied Mathematics at UKZN specialising in Instrumentational Astrophysics received the Albertina Sisulu Fellowship for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology at the Department of Science and Innovation’s (DSI) annual Women in Science, Technology and Innovation Awards. Moso was one of two honourees from UKZN, with Professor Verusia Chetty from the School of Health Sciences also being recognised.

The awards acknowledge and reward female scientists and researchers for excellence in their fields and encourage them to serve as role models for aspiring young female scientists. The theme for the 2019 event was Making the Fourth Industrial Revolution Work for Women.

UKZN’s Dean of Research Professor Urmilla Bob, who nominated the recipients on behalf of UKZN, and Professor Betty Mubangizi, SARChI Chair in Sustainable Local (Rural) Livelihoods, attended the awards ceremony to support the UKZN honourees. Mubangizi, who was one of the judges, said that she is proud that, as in the past, UKZN women featured so prominently.

Moso was the only student recognised from the province of KwaZulu-Natal, with other award nominees coming from academia. She said it was an honour to be recognised for this national award in her first year of Masters study, and expressed her gratitude to God. She thanked her supervisors Professors Cynthia Chiang and Matthew Hilton, and Dr Ilya Sinaskiy for their support.

Chiang called the award well deserved, saying that Moso had played a key role in ground-breaking radio astronomy in the harsh environment of Marion Island, tackling the challenges she faced with confidence and positivity.

Moso’s research involves using the redshifted 21cm emission of neutral hydrogen to observe different epochs of the universe. Her project is part of the effort to build autonomous antenna stations that will map the low frequency sky. It uses the Probing Radio Intensity at high-Z from Marion (PRIZM) and the Array of Long Baseline Antennas for Taking Radio Observations from the Sub-Antarctic (ALBATROS) telescopes based at Marion Island. If successful, South African astronomers will be able to explore frequencies that have not been observed since the 1970s, a major advance in the field. Using these observations, scientists hope to be able to probe the earliest epochs of the history of the universe, as far back as the time stars were born.

Moso is the first in her family to reach master’s level, having followed an unconventional path. She first completed a National Diploma and BTech in Electrical Engineering at the Durban University of Technology, going on to BSc Honours studies in Physics at UKZN through the National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme (NASSP). Catching up on the Physics material she missed in her Engineering studies was a formidable task that Chiang said Moso managed with aplomb, making her an inspiring example for others wishing to pursue further studies no matter their academic background.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan