School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science

UKZN Hosts Second BRICS Symposium on Gravity, Astrophysics and Cosmology

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UKZN recently played host to the second Symposium of the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa Association of Gravity, Astrophysics and Cosmology (BRICS-AGAC) and the 2018 South Africa Gravity Society Meeting.

The symposium attracted scientists involved in the study of gravitation, astrophysics and cosmology in some of the world’s fastest-developing economies. Academics and research professionals were also in attendance.

Organisers hoped the event would accelerate scientific discoveries and collaborations in gravitation, astrophysics and cosmology.

Professor Yin-Zhe Ma of UKZN’s Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit (ACRU) chaired the local organising committee which included fellow academics Professor Sunil Maharaj and Dr Matt Hilton and several postdoctoral researchers as well as representatives from the University of Cape TownRhodes University and the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits).

UKZN Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research Professor Deresh Ramjugernath welcomed delegates and introduced UKZN, highlighting its research leadership in the country and its position among the top 150 institutions globally in the fields of astrophysics and cosmology.

‘We are proud of the research and teaching and learning that’s taking place in this particular space,’ said Ramjugernath. He described the role of astrophysical and cosmological research at UKZN, especially within the University’s Big Data and Informatics Research Flagship.

‘We want to ensure that we build a very strong network and relationship between the BRICS countries that drives research in this particular area,’ said Ramjugernath.

Mr Yunus Manjoo of the National Research Foundation (NRF) expounded on the role of the NRF in facilitating research excellence, emphasising the aim of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) to be at the forefront of astrophysics and cosmology work in South Africa.

Dr Yu Pang of the Science Office of the Embassy for the People’s Republic of China thanked the hosts of the event, saying: ‘Astronomy research may answer many fundamental questions about our universe. It has become one of the priority areas for China/South Africa bilateral cooperation in science, technology and innovation.’

Ma gave background on the bilateral collaboration between China and South Africa, highlighting radio facilities and optical telescopes in both countries, and describing bilateral visits, common research interests and collaborative scientific outputs. A major feature of the collaboration was the establishment of the UKZN-National Astronomical Observatory China (NAOC) Centre for Computational Astrophysics.

Professor Rong-Gen Cai spoke on BRICS-AGAC and the importance of BRICS countries as emerging forces in science and technology.

‘This is a very good starting point to further co-operation for our association,’ said Cai. ‘We can do a lot, and should do our best to make a contribution to the world.’

During the Symposium, delegates paid tribute to the late Professor Sergio Colafrancesco, DST-NRF Square Kilometre Array Research Chair in Radio Astronomy at Wits, who had played a role on the local organising committee. He died in September.

Presentation themes included classical and quantum theories of gravity, cosmology, radio astronomy, gravitational wave astronomy, relativistic astrophysics and more. Delegates also visited the UKZN-NAOC Joint Centre and the astrophysics laboratory on UKZN’s Westville campus.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Asokaran Rajh