UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) hosted a three-part online public lecture series during National Science Week to contribute to the national objective of promoting awareness of the value that the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields add to everyday life.
Themed ‘What Do Scientists Do? A Look Inside the Ivory Tower’, the series introduced three scientists working in different fields in the CAES with Dr Tanja Reinhardt of the Science and Technology Education Centre (STEC @UKZN) facilitating the sessions.
Associate Professor Michael Brooks, head of Mechanical Engineering and co-founder of UKZN’s Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG) where he directs the Phoenix Hybrid Sounding Rocket Programme, delivered the first lecture titled: #WEFLYROCKETS! The Why and How of Aerospace Propulsion Research at UKZN.
‘The NewSpace small satellite launch market is exploding and that is the reason ASReG is doing the work that it does because we have commercial ambitions but you have to start small to understand these very complex machines and you have to develop the people as well,’ said Brooks.
‘We do this research because we are in the middle of a new space race, and rocket engineering is in high demand once more,’ he said. ‘Rocketry isn’t just something that is nice to have, it’s already something that’s integrated into our lives. A lot of what goes into society comes from these various science programmes.’
Following Brooks, Ms Tankiso Moso, graduate engineer in training at the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory and UKZN alumnus, spoke about Mysterious Marion Island: Developing and Testing Radio Astronomical Equipment in the Cold.
Moso visited Marion Island while at UKZN’s Astrophysics Research Centre, and in 2020 was invited by McGill University in Canada to develop and test radio astronomical equipment on Marion Island as part of a collaborative effort between McGill and UKZN.
‘The project has the final goal of laying the groundwork for exploring the dark ages and exploring the first formation of stars,’ said Moso. ‘We’re trying to see what we can observe from this mysterious island and its skies.’
Moso described the establishment of autonomous stations to map the skies from Marion Island and also spoke on the demands of spending time on the island during experiments.
The final lecture was presented by Professor of Marine Geology and Sedimentology Andrew Green, who described Lifting Back the Waters: Adventures in Southern African Marine Geology. He noted that UKZN’s interest lay in investigating sea level, coastal deposits and coastal evolution over thousands of years.
‘Understanding the shape of the seabed is a particularly important facet of marine geology – not only the shape but also the structure of what lies beneath that; each one of those layers is interesting to a geologist because they mark a step back in geological time,’ said Green.
‘We’re allowing ourselves to walk back in time and look at each individual layer as a change in earth history. As a geologist that’s exactly what you want to see, because we are interested in examining and understanding a dynamic earth.’
Words: Christine Cuénod