Women in Physics Day

SANSA recently supported the local Women in Physics in South Africa (WIPISA) programme by hosting 20 passionate undergraduate Physics students from the University of Cape Town (UCT) for a “Women in Physics Day” in Hermanus. The initiative aims to attract women to careers in Physics and is aligned with SANSA’s human capital development goal of creating scarce skills needed to help transform the country into a knowledge-based economy.

SANSA researchers and engineer, Mpho Tshisaphungo, Dr Zama Katamzi, Elda Saunderson and PhD students Electdom Matandirotya and Amore Nel, all from different cultural and educational backgrounds, shared their personal journeys, including career opportunities and challenges with the students. “When one is passionate about what you do, gender is not an issue, your focus is on the work and your co-workers will respect that”, said Elda who has been working in a male-dominated industry for two decades.

The students attended the event with their lecturer, Dr Dale Taylor and two MSc students, Isobel Kolbe and Mumene Tlowana also from UCT. After a tour of the Space Weather Centre, from where SANSA generates its daily space weather bulletins and forecasts of space weather conditions, and the Applied Science and Technology (AST) Department, which provides services mainly to the South African Air Force, SA Navy and other commercial clients, the students attended an exciting lecture on Sprites, a new space science research project.

They also participated in a vacuum chamber experiment that simulated the optical gas discharge from a Sprite and then had some fun blasting potatoes from a potato gun to demonstrate unpowered flight with gravity as the primary force. “The students were really interested and engaged actively during and after the lecture and demonstrations,” said Prof Mike Kosch, SANSA Research and Applications Manager. “It is great to see enthusiastic students who ask important questions”

“The activities were well-balanced and the day has not only encouraged the students to pursue careers in Physics, but also to develop problem-solving skills that will enhance their studies” said Isobel Kolbe, an MSc Theoretical Physics student, who previously attended a SANSA Winter School.
According to 2nd-year BSc Physics student and blogger, Munira Hoosain, “Studying physics can be lonely at times, so it was so much fun connecting with other young, intelligent women who are happy to listen to whatever small bit of specialised knowledge you may have to share.”

Vaneshree Maharaj