Ms Chevarra Hansraj was over the moon to learn that she got 93% for her MSc degree specialising in general relativity – the highest mark ever recorded for an MSc completed in one year in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science.
In line with her undergraduate and honours degrees, the former Eden College pupil was once again capped summa cum laude.
Hansraj credits her love for mathematics to her father, Professor Sudan Hansraj, who is a lecturer in the Mathematics department at UKZN. ‘His passion rubbed off on me at an early age and it continues to inspire me,’ she said.
Growing up in a home where Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking were constant topics, it was inevitable her focus turned to astrophysics.
Hansraj enjoyed working on her honours project within the realm of relativistic astrophysics which was supervised by Professor Sunil Maharaj. This amazing experience led her to pursue a master’s degree.
For her MSc research, supervised by Maharaj and Professor Rituparno Goswami, Hansraj focused on the kinematics and dynamics of arbitrary spacetime admitting conformal symmetry using a semi-tetrad formalism which is a novel approach.
Her investigation allowed for new insights into the behaviour of scalars pertaining to the kinematical and dynamical variables. The results can be applied to specific spacetimes, which could lead to physically significant results.
‘South Africa is a frontrunner in the international landscape on gravity research, hosting the SKA project which is one of the largest scientific experiments on the planet,’ said Hansraj.
‘My research seeks to answer fundamental questions about the behaviour of celestial objects such as stars, galaxies and universes. Understanding these entities goes beyond physical experiments. Well-founded scientific theories must be developed using advanced mathematics to explain these phenomena.’
Said her proud father: ‘Although I played no direct part in the scientific aspects of Chevarra’s thesis, I perused it as it is in my area of research and was impressed by the level of maturity she displayed in developing the main points of the thesis.
‘Of course, she was favoured by having top class academic supervisors. Nevertheless, her achievements have made me very proud. It is testimony to her own dogged determination and exceptional work ethic.’
Currently, Hansraj is doing her PhD in Applied Mathematics, extending the work done in her masters and she hopes to publish the results. She is keen to continue with postdoctoral research.
Maharaj elaborated: ‘Chevarra has produced some novel and insightful results using a tetrad decomposition of spacetime to describe the physical properties of relativistic fluids. These general results can be applied to any gravitating fluid. Her results have interesting consequences to cosmological and astrophysical models, which form the basis of her ongoing research into the doctoral programme.’
‘Chevarra is a dedicated and very hard-working student,’ agreed Goswami. ‘She exerts exceptional effort to achieve assigned tasks and her results show an overall excellence.’
Hansraj thanked her supervisors for their valuable guidance and mentoring, as well as her family, ‘whose belief in me motivates me to give of my best every day’.
Words: Leena Rajpal
Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan