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Bumper crop of doctoral degrees in Physics
Author: Wiida Fourie-Basson
Published: 12/12/2014

The Faculty of Science delivered a bumper crop of doctoral degrees in Physics at Stellenbosch University's December graduation ceremony.

Five students obtained their Phds in Physics and four in Mathematics, while another eight doctoral degrees were awarded in the fields of Botany and Zoology, Chemistry and Polymer Science, Geology and Microbiology.

A total of 500 BSc students were capped during two graduation ceremonies at the Coetzenburg Stadion on Thursday 11 December 2014. This incluces 300 BSc students, 137 BSc honours students, and 63 MSc students.

Physics dominate

In a first for South Africa, Dr Melanie McLaren (29) produced the first quantum entanglement experiment in Africa as part of her research into quantum optics. Entanglement is one of the most perplexing phenomenon in the quantum world where subatomic particles behave in ways even Einstein called "spooky". Once two particles are entangled, they share information such that a measurement on one particle will immediately affect the other, regardless of the distance between them.

"This means that information can be processed quickly and securely. In the field of quantum communication and cryptography, it may thus one day become possible to manage large amounts of information very quickly without the threat of eavesdropping," Melanie explains.

Melanie's research investigated novel ways in which to measure entanglement: "We showed that entanglement can recover after encountering an obstacle. This is an important step towards free-space quantum communication, as the entangled particles will be affected by atmospheric turbulence, which can destroy the entanglement. Using these novel measurement techniques, it may be possible to mitigate these effects for efficient communication," she adds.

Melanie is a former pupil of St Mary's Anglican School for Girls in Johannesburg. Her work has been published in several high ranking academic journals, including the prestigious journal Nature Communication.

For his PhD in nuclear physics, Dr Etienne Vermeulen developed new production methods for isotopes for use in nuclear medicine. Based on the innovative nature of his research, he was offered a position at the world famous Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland.

Dr Jacob Mateyisi, who hails from Lesotho and came to SU for postgraduate studies after he completed a post-graduate diploma at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences(AIMS), works on statistical physics. He addressed the physics of molecular machines in networks and the diffusion of particles in pores. These are highly relevant issues in the physics of biological systems and materials used for filtering. He is currently employed as a teaching and information technology assistant at AIMS in Muizenberg.

Dr Gashaw Adera left Ethiopia in 2006 to study at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cape Town. He then pursued postgraduate studies in theoretical nuclear physics at Stellenbosch University. Since 2007 he has obtained an MSc (cum laude) in this field, published a paper in one of the top physical journals in the world (Physical Review C), and received the John Todd Morrison Research Medal for the best MSc student. The title of his PhD is 'Relativistic Distorted Wave Analysis of Neutrino-induced Strange Particle Production on Nuclei'.

As part of his PhD studies, Dr Vincent Kheswa participated in a six month training program organised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at the University of Oslo, as part of a technical non-proliferation and disarmament studies scholarship. The purpose of the scholarship was to encourage technical research in the field of non-proliferation and disarmament, in particular in relation to the verification of the dismantlement of nuclear warheads.

Another DSc for the Faculty of Science

Prof Doug Rawlings, a leading international researcher in the field of molecular biology, obtained a Doctor of Science (DSc) degree. A DSc is awarded for published work of an exceptional standard, containing original contributions to the advancement of knowledge and learning which has given the candidate international distinction in their field. This is the sixth DSc to be awarded in the Faculty of Science since 1974.

On the photo, in front from left to right: Dr Melanie McLaren, Dr Jacob Mateyisi and Dr Gashaw Adera. At the back are their supervisors and co-supervisors Prof Erich Rohwer, Prof Kristian Müller-Nedebock and Prof Brandon van der Ventel. Photo: Anton Jordaan

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