University of Kwazulu-Natal Astrophysics

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University of Kwazulu-Natal Astrophysics

Mass map of galaxy cluster MCS J0416.1–2403 using strong and w

Mass map of galaxy cluster MCS J0416.1–2403 using strong and weak lensing. Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, HST Frontier Fields Acknowledgement: Mathilde Jauzac (Durham University, UK and Astrophysics & Cosmology Research Unit, South Africa) and Jean-Paul Kneib (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland)

The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit (ACRU) is a key driver of astronomy and cosmology research in South Africa with an international reputation. ACRU’s goals include contributing to the knowledge economy of South Africa by producing high-impact research in astrophysics and cosmology, and building local skills and capacity by training high calibre PhD graduates.

ACRU achieves these goals through a strong research and teaching programme centred on academic staff, postdoctoral researchers, postgraduate students, affiliated researchers and visitors. ACRU staff are leading researchers in cosmology and relativistic astrophysics. They participate in a number of high-profile international astronomy projects across the multi-wavelength spectrum, from radio to microwave, infrared, optical and X-rays, using cutting-edge ground and space-based telescopes.

ACRU’s other key goal is to create a greater awareness of astronomy in South Africa. It achieves this through public talks, school visits, holding career weeks, participation in science exhibitions and the use of social media.

ACRU researchers actively use the SALT, C-BASS, PAPER and KAT-7 telescopes that are based in South Africa, and a host of international facilities including the XMM satellite and the Hubble Space Telescope. Through involvement in international cosmic microwave background experiments such as ACT, SPT, Spider and Planck, ground-breaking research results research findings have been published that make international headlines and produced a number of scientific awards.

ACRU produces high calibre graduates who are extremely adept at problem solving and project management, highly analytical, able to effectively use logic and reason, exhibit strong decision making skills while still possessing a high degree of creativity. These graduates excel not only in astrophysics but also in various branches of science (mathematics, computer science, physical science, statistics) since a comprehensive knowledge of these subjects is required in astronomy.

Studying Astronomy at UKZN

Studying Astrophysics and Cosmology

Students interested in studying astrophysics and cosmology usually register for a BSc degree majoring in physics and applied mathematics, with electives in cognate subjects such as computer science, statistics or chemistry.

BSc graduates qualify to study a BSc honours degree, which can be done in either physics or applied mathematics, with modules chosen from both disciplines.

Currently, there are two astrophysics courses offered at undergraduate level: one introductory course at 2nd year level, and a more advanced course at 3rd year level. From 2015, we will be offering a new Astronomy Major as part of the BSc Mathematical Sciences stream at UKZN.

Undergraduate students studying astrophysics and affiliated with ACRU qualify to participate in the Undergraduate Internship Programme (UIP), which provides individual tutoring and mentoring to astrophysics undergraduates. Various research projects are also offered through this programme.

Undergraduate Internship Programme

ACRU runs an undergraduate internship programme (UIP) to enhance the coursework, research, and outreach experience for ACRU undergraduate students. The programme involves students studying astrophysics and cosmology at the undergraduate level (BSc and BSc Hons), including students in the SKA-NRF-UKZN bursary programme. The UIP comprises a number of activities to strengthen the academic programme for ACRU undergraduates, and involves close interaction with academic staff, postdoctoral research fellows, and postgraduate students. These activities include:

  • Individual tutoring and exam revision meetings with ACRU postgraduate students
  • Mentorship meetings with ACRU staff members
  • Participation in astronomy outreach activities
  • Participation in research projects by ACRU postdoctoral fellows and staff members

General orientation and administrative assistance is also provided for UIP students.

Funding your studies

The following is a list of sources of funding that can be used to finance your studies:

  • Square Kilometre Array undergraduate bursary programme: bursaries are available through an application process directly from the National Research Foundation (NRF) or via a block grant to a host university. UKZN is currently a host university for the SKA undergraduate bursary programme, so interested students can apply directly to the NRF and to ACRU.
  • ACRU undergraduate bursaries: in addition to the SKA block-grant bursaries, we offer a limited number of bursaries for undergraduate study in astrophysics and cosmology.
  • University of KwaZulu-Natal scholarships and bursary programme: please see UKZN student support for more information.
  • BSc Honours NRF bursaries: these bursaries are offered through various programmes such as the Square Kilometre Array, Scarce Skills, Innovation and Free-Standing programmes. More information is available on the NRF website.

If you are interested in studying astrophysics or cosmology or learning more about available funding opportunities, please contact Strini Rajgopaul () for more information.

Postgraduate Studies

A vital component of ACRU’s research programme is the training of postgraduate students in research, a number of which are supported by the South African SKA postgraduate bursary programme. Several of these students have won awards or had their work highlighted in the press.

Postgraduate research opportunities at MSc and PhD level are available in the following areas:

  • Cosmology including the cosmic microwave background
  • Large-scale structure
  • Epoch of reionisation and clusters of galaxies
  • Extragalactic Astronomy including galaxy formation and evolution
  • Relativistic Astrophysics including the study of compact objects

In addition, from 2015, ACRU will host a node of the National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme that is focused on training postgraduate students at the BSc Honours and the MSc level.

Sources of funding for postgraduate study include:

  • National Research Foundation (NRF) funding for postgraduate students
  • Funding from the South African SKA project
  • Funding via NRF research grants held by individual ACRU members
  • Funding through the National Institute for Theoretical Physics
  • UKZN funding through graduate assistantships
  • UKZN scholarships and bursary programme

World-renowned ACRU researchers supervise Masters and PhD students, who regularly travel the globe for collaboration. International bilateral research agreements exist with universities in the USA, United Kingdom, Spain, France and India. ACRU is also home to a growing cohort of students and post-doctoral researchers from international shores, who have joined ACRU to gain access to excellent research opportunities.

Interested students can contact the faculty members working in their area of interest for more information on research or funding opportunities.

Contact Address

Astrophysics & Cosmology Research Unit
School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science
University of KwaZulu-Natal
Westville Campus
Private Bag X54001
Durban 4000
South Africa

Telephone: 031 260 8078

Fax: 031 260 8291

Email: Zibuyile Tinkerbell Shangase (ACRU administrator/general enquiries) 

Strini Rajgopaul (public relations/outreach)