Science Communication Workshop

Participants at the Science Communication Workshop

Participants at the Science Communication Workshop

A very successful SAASTA/NPEP Science Writing workshop was held on 29 – 30 May at iThemba LABS.  It was attended by 65 participants, including students from MRD, Subatomic Physics and some communication representatives.  The purpose of the workshop was to introduce participants to writing and presenting their scientific research to non-scientific audiences, i.e. to promote research to a wider audience, such as the general public, corporates and policy makers.  They were presented with some tips and techniques for presenting on radio and video.  All participants had the opportunity to rewrite their own research for general publication and to make a presentation on video.

Students and postdocs from MRD and Subatomic Physics were invited as well as communication representatives from all departments.

2017 SA-JINR Student Practice

The Subatomic Physics Department (DSP) is coordinating the annual South Africa-Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (SA-JINR) Student Practice held at the JINR laboratories in Dubna, Russia from 29 May to 16 June 2017. In total, 16 students were selected from 8 SA Universities through a panel review meeting. In preparation for the Student Practice, iThemba LABS hosted a two-day workshop on 25 and 26 May. During the workshop, students were given an overview of the research projects undertaken at iThemba LABS, as well as a tour of the research facilities.

JINR Student Practice Group 2017

The students were accompanied by Zina Ndlovu (the student practice coordinator), and will be joined by Dr Nchodu (the DSP manager).  Avuyile Bulala, a UCT registered student based at iThemba LABS, supervised by Dr Maleka of the Environmental Radioactivity Laboratory (ERL), is one of the participants. Two HR officials, Anthea Groenewald and Siphokazi Dunge, are also visiting the JINR University Centre. The purpose of their visit is to benchmark the iThemba LABS learning and development initiatives against the well-established training structures at the JINR.

Mr SA visits iThemba LABS

Dr Habib Noorbhai, current Mr South Africa visited iThemba LABS on 30 May.

Dr Noorbhai is a Lecturer and Researcher at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. He is also a Registered Biokineticist, Humanitarian and Motivational Speaker. In 2013, he was voted in South Africa’s top 100 brightest young minds and in 2015, he was nominated among Mail and Guardians top 200 young South Africans. He is Director of the Humanitarians NPO ( that works in the areas of Health, Education, Innovative Living and Research.

His visit to iThemba LABS was to discuss possible collaborations with iThemba LABS in the areas of community outreach, education and research.

Biomimetic and bioactive polymers – the next phase of health care?

On the 28th of June, iThemba LABS will be hosting a public lecture entitled: “Biomimetic and bioactive polymers – the next phase of health care?”

The lecture will be presented by Prof Bert Klumperman (Stellenbosch University).

In order to design and synthesize complex materials with advanced functionalities, scientists very often take inspiration from Nature. In this lecture, a few examples will be shown of such developments. One example is the use of self-assembly to create a synthetic mimic of the tobacco mosaic virus. This example just serves to demonstrate how we can make use of simple principles to manipulate the organization of molecules. Other examples will show how we can use hybrids of natural and synthetic systems to make functional assemblies that are responsive to their environment. Such hybrid systems show great promise for the targeted delivery of therapeutic agents to specific sites in the body. The lecture will end with an outlook on new developments in the field of nanomedicine, i.e. the application of nanotechnology in health care.

International Workshop on Level Density and Gamma Strength

Participants at the International Workshop on Level Density and Gamma Strength in Oslo

Participants at the International Workshop on Level Density and Gamma Strength in Oslo

The Department of Physics at the University of Oslo hosted an International Workshop on Level Density and Gamma Strength in Oslo, May 8-12, 2017. The workshop was the sixth in a series of biannual meetings in Oslo devoted to the subject, and enjoyed its 10th anniversary. The scientific program included invited talks, selected oral contributions from submitted abstracts, and poster presentations, covering the following topics: Nuclear level density, Gamma-strength function, Phase transitions in mesoscopic systems, Applications in astrophysics and Reactor physics and other related topics. iThemba LABS was represented by Dr P Jones, Dr L Pellegri, Dr M Wiedeking, Mr C Brits, and Mr K Malatji.

PhD students Kgashane Malatji and Christiaan Brits both presented their work.  The results were very well received by the audience and lively discussions took place which have already led to new experimental ideas that will be presented to the next iThemba LABS PAC.

Science Writing workshop

This will be a practical workshop to guide you as to how to write your scientific and technical research in an easily digestible format for various audiences, such as the general public and the media.

DST Budget Vote Exhibition and Debate

iThemba LABS was part of an NRF Exhibition that was held at the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town during the DST Budget Vote Speech on 16 May with the theme of “The Oliver Tambo legacy: Positioning the national system of innovation for the future”.

138-Lanthanum production in the Cosmos

Dr Vincent Kheswa, who was previously a student at iThemba LABS, has published a follow-up article on his PhD work which evolves around the production of 138-Lanthanum in the cosmos and which was a long standing puzzle of nuclear astrophysics. Dr Kheswa took a new approach to determine the 138-Lanthanum production through measurements of statistical gamma-ray decay and used these quantities to successfully determine the reaction rates. From these rates, Dr Kheswa was able to determine which process is responsible for the production of the very rare nucleus 138-Lanthanum. These results are truly ground-breaking, because for the first time these astrophysical reactions could be constrained experimentally. From those, the necessary astrophysical environments that are needed to exist during galactic events, such as a supernova or merging neutron stars, to produce 138-Lanthanum, could be explored. You can read more in the full paper: B V Kheswa et al., Phys Rev C 95, 045805 (2017).

Suppressing a selection of excited states in carbon reveals others

In 2009 a paper was published on results from experiments done at iThemba LABS on the K600 spectrometer. It was shown that a long sought after excited state in the most abundant carbon isotope was obscured by another well-known state that is very strongly excited. This carbon isotope has six protons and six neutrons and can be excited into a state which looks like three bound helium nuclei, each having two protons and two neutrons. This state, and the excited state identified in 2009, plays a vital role in the formation of carbon and all elements heavier than carbon.

An experiment has just been completed on the K600 spectrometer where a heavier carbon isotope with two extra neutrons in the nucleus was used a target. This experiment used 100 MeV protons (hydrogen with no neutrons in the nucleus) as the beam and selected hydrogen with two neutrons in the nucleus as the reaction particle through the spectrometer. An advantage of this reaction is that it suppresses the excitation of some excited states. One of these states that was not excited is what is known as the Giant Monopole Resonance, a mode of excitation where the nucleus alternately increases and shrinks in size. To our surprise it also suppresses the excitation of the very strong state which was obscuring the excited state we found in 2009. Both these pieces of information will be important in puzzling out new information on the structure of carbon.

iThemba LABS in the media (03/05/2017)

Dr Stephan Woodborne, iThemba Labs Senior Accelerator Mass Spectroscopy Scientist, was interviewed on Classic FM on 18 April on: Understanding Climate Change through the Baobab