Physics Postgraduate Students Empowered Through SAIP 2023 Winter Schools

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Physics Postgraduate Students Empowered Through SAIP 2023 Winter Schools

Physics Postgraduate Students Empowered Through SAIP 2023 Winter Schools

The long-awaited South African Institute of Physics conference (SAIP) 2023 commenced on Monday, 3 July, at the University of Zululand’s (UNIZULU) Richards Bay Campus.

According to Professor Thulani Jili who chairs the conference organising committee, SAIP “is the biggest physics conference in the country which attracts physicists across the globe”.

The conference began with the traditional winter school edition, a whole-day segment wherein postgraduate students from various South African universities are imparted knowledge on two identified topical areas of physics. The focus in this year’s conference was on quantum technology and nanotechnology, two fast-growing fields which, in Prof Jili’s opinion, are relevant for the technological demands of this era.

Seasoned scholars in the quantum technology and nanotechnology fields were invited to speak on various topics of interest, with the aim of expanding postgraduate students’ knowledge of the two fields while also piquing their interest in conducting research related to the two fields.

Topics in quantum technology ranged from quantum nonlinear optics to quantum imaging to quantum structured light, among others. Light Mkhumbuza, a first-year master’s student at Wits University’s Structured Light Laboratory, said he found the winter school beneficial as he was exposed to quantum computing, a specialisation he was not familiar with. He was especially intrigued by Stellenbosch University’s Prof Francesco Petruccione’s presentation on quantum computation, where he highlighted the current challenges and opportunities.

Similar to the quantum technology winter school, attendees in the nanotechnology side were greatly impacted by the presentations.

Arnold Mutubuki, a master’s student from Nelson Mandela University, shared: “I am a student researching on the development of titanium dioxide nanostructures with a modified energy bend gap. So, as a student who has research aligned with nanotechnology and nanostructure fabrication, I saw it wise to partake in the nanotechnology winter school and have exposure to what other researchers are working on. Some of them are, in a way, similar to what we are working on at Nelson Mandela – that is semiconductor development material characterisation for functional materials. It was an encouraging session because it was a motivation for me to keep working on my research. It was also an opportunity to interact with people who are directly linked to what I’m doing. I have networked with some colleagues. That’s the start of collaboration. Who knows, maybe in the future we can work on something and get publication.”

For Peter Olagbaju, a North-West University postdoctoral fellow, attending the winter school has been an eye-opener since he is not a nanotechnologist by background, but a nuclear radiation physicist. Having now joined a nano group, he has had to build a new foundation and his attendance has been an opportunity to gain insight into the fundamentals of the field.

The official conference proceedings (plenary and parallel sessions) will begin on Tuesday, 4 July and conclude on Friday, 7 July.

  • Naledi Hlefane

Picture by: James Thwala

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