School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science

Mr Mangaliso Mngomezulu.

Computer Scientist Follows the Sun!

Mr Mangaliso Mngomezulu secured an MSc Computer Science degree summa cum laude for research he did on predicting radiation outbursts (solar flares) that occur in the Sun.

The complexity of this problem is that factors affecting the occurrence of solar flares are not yet fully understood, which results in poor predictions of how intense they will be when they occur.

‘The reason we have to worry about solar flares is that their intensity is growing every decade,’ said Mngomezulu. ‘At the very least, they can destroy satellites in space and cause blackouts in some parts or all of Earth. The most motivating concern is that they can wipe out human life on Earth through lethal radiation.’

Mngomezulu said that solar flares were also capable of causing power grid failures by overloading transformers with strong electrical currents causing total unrecoverable failures.

‘Their threat is real, and their intensity and frequency will increase over time. In my lifetime we are very likely to encounter a very disturbing solar flare experience,’ he warned.

The young computer scientist was motivated to research solar flares since it allowed him to combine interesting solar physics with computer vision and sequence modelling.

‘I knew when I came up with the topic with my supervisor that I would always be motivated to work on it,’ he said. ‘The good thing is that the skills one gains in the process are very applicable in a variety of domains ranging from scientific and industrial research, finance, healthcare and robotics.’

After an interesting honours year where he gained an in-depth comprehension of how artificial intelligence works from the underlying philosophies to the mathematics and the software, Mngomezulu said doing his MSc at UKZN was a natural choice. Moving forward, he plans to pursue a PhD in Computer Science and work on research directly consumable by South African industries for the benefit of the economy.

He thanked his supervisor Dr Mandlenkosi Gwetu and co-supervisor Dr Jean Vincent Fonou-Dombeu for their support, which included funding his research and grooming him as an ad-hoc lecturer teaching final-year and first-year students in consecutive semesters while working on his research.

When not behind the computer, Mngomezulu likes a game of chess and to practice Kyokushin karate.

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Supplied