School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science

Summa cum laude graduate, Ms Shavani Naicker.

Tackling the Mysteries of the Universe

Ms Shavani Naicker was awarded her Master’s in Science specialising in Applied Mathematics summa cum laude.

Naicker attended a Science Career event at UKZN when she was in Grade 11 where she was introduced to the Astrophysics Research Centre’s (ARC) programme and the various opportunities in Astronomy in South Africa. This set her on her path toward a career in Astrophysics.

Her dissertation titled: New Models in General Relativity and Einstein-Gauss-Bonnet Gravity, investigated static spherically symmetric stellar models in general relativity and Einstein-Gauss-Bonnet (EGB) gravity theory. Higher dimensional exact models were obtained in general relativity for a shear-free heat conducting fluid and new solutions were produced in five dimensional EGB gravity using a new approach. This work was then extended to include the effects of the electromagnetic field.

‘My research forms an integral part of relativistic astrophysics and cosmology that is widely used in the framework of general relativity and EGB gravity to model compact relativistic stars,’ she said.

Naicker was awarded numerous scholarships and awards during the course of her studies and is a member of the Golden Key International Honours Society. She said that her passion for Mathematics was sparked by Dr Byron Brassel who was her lecturer and is now her PhD co-supervisor. ‘I wanted to follow in his footsteps.’

Her other co-supervisor, Professor Sunil Maharaj commented: ‘Shavani is an excellent student and she has shown special insight into the geometry of spacetime, and how this affects modified gravity theories.  She has obtained new results and these are to be published in leading journals. She has a very bright future in research.’

Brassel commented: ‘Shavani decided to do an honours project with myself and Professor Sunil Maharaj and I was pleasantly surprised by how well she managed the material, which was new and at the time, rather daunting, especially for an honours student. She has become an exceptionally fine student and academic with a sound mind and a refreshing curiosity about all things related to science and the universe. I look forward to seeing where she will end up in this world.’

Naicker’s future plans include undertaking postdoctoral research at an international institution. Her ultimate goal ‘is to become an accomplished researcher and lecturer in the field of astrophysics. I also hope to make significant contributions to the field of astrophysics that can unravel the many mysteries of the universe.’ She thanked Maharaj and Brassel and her parents for their support.

When not studying Naicker relaxes by reading, baking and following a dance fitness workout which helps her to de-stress.

Words: Leena Rajpal

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal