School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science

Study of an Epoch when Stars First Formed Earns her an MSc

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The study of an epoch when stars first formed in the universe earned Ms Tankiso Moso an MSc in Applied Mathematics cum laude. ‘It is good to know about the history of the universe and its epochs as it touches on things that affect and appear in our everyday life,’ she said.

Her dissertation, titled: Low-Frequency Observations of the Radio Sky from Marion Island, was supervised by Professors Cynthia Chiang and Kavilan Moodley.

Moso conducted her research on Marion Island as this is where the antennas she used are based. ‘We only have one access window per year which makes it extremely challenging to do work there but Marion Island has significant characteristics which are exceptional for our research,’ she explained. ‘Research at low frequencies is especially rare as there are very few locations that have very low to no interference on the radio spectrum.’

For her undergraduate Engineering degree Moso specialised in radio frequency and microwave engineering. ‘When a friend of mine introduced me to the National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme (NASSP) UKZN node scholarship, it grabbed my attention because the way he explained it made me realise that if I major in Instrumentational Astrophysics, I’ll still apply my engineering specialities and grow my experience and career in both science and engineering,’ she said.

Moso explained the significance of her area of specialisation: ‘Very few experiments have done this kind of research, especially on very low frequencies. We are working towards discovering what existed, but no longer exists, on the very low frequencies, using new technology and techniques to capture the data.’

Chiang was full of praise for Moso’s research: ‘Words are not enough to describe Tankiso’s brilliant MSc work,’ she said. ‘She has designed and successfully fielded novel astronomical instrumentation on Marion Island, which is one of the harshest locations on Earth. This is no small feat and certainly not for the faint of heart! It has been a pleasure and a privilege working with someone as talented as Tankiso, and her achievements will continue to inspire those around her.’

Moso expressed sincere thanks to all those who supported her during the course of her studies: ‘God always comes first. My ancestors and my parents’ prayers kept me going in difficult times. The support I get from my whole family and my partner is highly appreciated. I can’t leave out my friends, acquaintances and colleagues. A few words of acknowledgement to my supervisor Professor Chiang for her supervision in the planning and implementation of both my honours and master’s research projects. And I thank Professor Siva Venkataraman (UKZN node NASSP Director) and Professor Jonathan Sievers for their support.’

On balance, Moso gave her MSc experience the thumbs up: ‘It hasn’t been an easy ride, but I made it out stronger than before.’ She intends to continue on the academic path and complete her PhD. Moso is also considering taking up the opportunity to live on Marion Island for a year. ‘I’ll see where the greener pastures lead me,’ she said.

‘UKZN is one of the highly ranked universities in the country but most importantly, love for my research is what made me stay after finishing my BSc Honours. I consider it as a very rare opportunity and skill to be science and engineering-oriented and qualified.’

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Supplied