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Stellenbosch University to expand research capacity in astronomy
Author: Faculty of Science (media & communication)
Published: 29/08/2023

The Department of Physics at Stellenbosch University (SU) will further strengthen its research capacity in astronomy and astrophysics with the appointment of Prof Yin-Zhe Ma, an internationally recognized researcher in the field of computational astronomy and cosmology.  

Prof Ma, who will join the Department in September 2023, also focuses on cosmic microwave background radiation, galaxy peculiar velocity field, epoch of reionization, galaxy survey, neutron stars, dark matter search and black holes. He was involved in the European Space Agency's Planck mission to study the relic radiation from the Big Bang; and Australia's 6dF Galaxy Survey project to map the nearby universe. Currently, he is leading a research team participating in a South Africa-USA collaborative project: the Hydrogen Epoch Reionization Array (HERA) and the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) project at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile. He is also involved in South Africa's MeerKAT project and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) science working group, as well as China's FAST telescope. He has published more than 120 research publications in peer-reviewed journals in astronomy and astrophysics, with total citations exceeding 24 000.

Prof Ma says astrophysics and cosmology are amongst the fastest growing areas in physics. In this regard South Africa has made large investments in astronomy and astrophysics research and infrastructure, such as the MeerKAT telescope, the HERA project and LSST survey, as well as the human capacity development required in this area.

With Prof Ma's appointment, the Department of Physics aims to establish a solid astrophysics and cosmology programme which will connect to existing activities of the School for Data Science and Computational Thinking – such as data analysis techniques to handle the big data from telescopes – as well as the work of the South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Electromagnetic Systems and EMI Mitigation for SKA in the Faculty of Engineering.

“With this new initiative, SU hopes to contribute to the training of the next generation of researchers in computational astrophysics and promote inter-disciplinary collaborations between our researchers in engineering, physics and data science," says Prof Sibusiso Moyo, DVC Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Support.

Prof Louise Warnich, dean of the Faculty of Science, especially encourages MSc and PhD students to contact Prof Ma directly to join the new astronomy and astrophysics research initiative.

Prof Shaun Wyngaardt, head of the Department of Physics, says they welcome Prof Ma's enthusiasm, and the contributions he will make to the department and the broader physics community in South Africa.

More about Prof Ma

Prof Ma studied physics at Nanjing University in China. After completion of his MSc degree at the Institute of Theoretical Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, he completed his PhD in astronomy at the Institute of Astronomy (IoA), Cambridge University, where he was supervised by Professors George Efstathiou and Anthony Challinor. Before joining SU, Prof Ma worked at as a CITA National Fellow at the University of British Columbia, at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics at Manchester University in the United Kingdom as a research associate. He joined the University of KwaZulu-Natal as senior lecturer in 2015 and was promoted to full professor in 2021. He was elected to the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) in 2022.

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