School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science

Attendees at the 2023 conference of the South African Gravity Society held at the ANEW Hotel in Hluhluwe, KwaZulu-Natal.

South African Gravity Society Revived at KZN Conference

At the 2023 conference of the South African Gravity Society (SAGS) held in KwaZulu-Natal and organised by the SAGS, the Centre of Excellence in Mathematical and Statistical Sciences (CoE-MaSS), UKZN, and the Astrophysics Research Centre (ARC), the Society was resuscitated after a period of inactivity and UKZN’s Professor Sudan Hansraj elected President.

Founded in 1996 at a conference hosted by the University of Zululand, the SAGS comprises researchers in South Africa and abroad who are interested in present and future research directions in gravity theories and their applications in astrophysics and cosmology. Its mission is to promote research into gravitation at the theoretical and experimental levels.

The world-renowned A-rated South African cosmological theorist, Professor George Ellis, was the first president of the society, which hosted its biennial conference at different locations across South Africa to provide a platform for young scientists to showcase their work through oral and poster presentations as well as interact with local senior scientists and invited experts.

The national society grew to a membership of close to 50 before activities lulled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a virtual meeting of remaining SAGS members resulted in a decision to resurrect the society, with UKZN staff volunteering to organise the SAGS 2023 conference.

Attended by about 50 academics and students, the conference was funded by the CoE-MaSS and the Hanno Rund Fund at UKZN. The programme included more than 20 presentations from leading and up-and-coming scientists on topics that ranged from solutions in modified gravity to wormhole solutions and aimed to create space for exchanges that would spark collaborations and further research on novel topics.

Participants enjoyed keynote presentations from eminent scientists Professor Christian Boehmer of University College London and Emeritus Professor Naresh Dadhich of the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) in India, who spoke about modified theories of gravity and Buchdahl stars respectively.

Boehmer’s main research interests are in theoretical physics and some continuum mechanics and his current work involves various modifications of general relativity with a focus on the underlying mathematical structure of these modifications. Dadhich, a former Director of the IUCAA has been involved in the IUCAA’s conception and operation for more than 30 years, having previously worked in the discipline of mathematics at the former University of Pune (now Savitribai Phule Pune University). His areas of interest include black hole energetics and relativistic astrophysics, and gravity in higher dimensions.

The conference programme included an Annual General Meeting where a new Council was elected. Hansraj was elected President; UKZN alumni, Dr Byron Brassel of the Durban University of Technology, and Dr Anslyn John of Stellenbosch University were elected Secretary and Treasurer respectively; while Professor Amare Abebe of North-West University was also elected into the Council as a member.

Hansraj is a senior member of UKZN’s ARC and a full professor in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science. His research has focused on modified field theories of general relativity, and he is passionate not only about exploring the depth of these theories to explain the universe’s workings, but also about the effective instruction of mathematics to students.

Under his leadership, the SAGS is working on finalising the constitution for ratification at its next general meeting, and it will maintain a website for the dissemination of information pertaining to the mathematical and observational areas of research.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied