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SA COVID-19 Dashboard goes continental

Botswana stats 27/04/20

The work on the SA COVID-19 project has triggered a collaboration with the Botswana International University of Science & Technology (BIUST).

The SA COVID-19 dashboard has grown with new data features, including snapshot views of how the pandemic is spreading in Africa, as well as statistics showing world trends, being added.

 This addition has triggered a collaboration with the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) to develop the first COVID-19 dashboard for Botswana, using data from the National Emergency Operation Centre of Botswana.

“This adds a new and important dimension to our existing collaborations with Wits and iThemba LABS,” says Professor Gregory Hillhouse, Head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at BIUST.

“It is gratifying to see that one of our MSc students who has been trained at iThemba LABS, Mr Otsile Tikologo, is actively involved with this project.”

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Students @CNNP2020 conference

From 24 – 28 February 2020, iThemba LABS is hosting the second Conference on Neutrino and Nuclear Physics (CNNP) at the African Pride Arabella Hotel & Spa near Kleinmond, South Africa. This conference aims to promote collaboration between scientists from the fields of nuclear, neutrino, astro- and dark-matter physics, and to create an environment where experiments and theories related to the interplay of these fields can be discussed.

As part of CNNP2020, a special session sponsored by the Southern African Institute for Nuclear Technology and Sciences (SAINTS), another iThemba LABS initiative, has been organised to allow masters and doctoral students doing research in basic/applied nuclear physics at South African universities to participate in CNNP2020 by presenting a poster on their research.

iThemba LABS insisted on the SAINTS poster session being included in the CNNP program since one of the top priorities at iThemba LABS is the growth and success of masters and doctoral students. Providing a platform for the students to share their research with and receive feedback from experts in the CNNP scientific community is an experience that will play an invaluable role in their professional development.

CNNP2020 promises to be an excellent conference that results in many fruitful new collaborations and we look forward to the outcomes of this week!

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Well done! DSP Students

Over the last few months, PhD students linked to the DSP have graduated/completed their research work.

1. Christiaan Brits has graduated with a PhD degree from Stellenbosch University in December 2019. Christiaan’s
work focussed on the electric quadrupole transition strength which is a fundamental quantity to probe the collective
behaviour in nuclei and is a basic observable in studies of nuclear structure. Experimental measurements of this
transition strength provide powerful information on quantities such as deformation, the interaction between protons
and neutrons, and the vanishing and emergence of shell gaps. The much improved values of the transition strength
between nuclear states in 194-Platinum provide important constraints for nuclear theory. The measurement on 14-
Carbon lays the foundation for improved future experiments to address the apparent inconsistencies in the
understanding of the nuclear structure in this nucleus.

2. Kgashane Malatji has graduated with a PhD degree from Stellenbosch University in December 2019. Kgashane’s
projects focussed on two parts. Several samarium isotopes show discrepancies in the persistence of the nuclear
scissors resonance, which may hint at interesting underlying physics and possibly impact the production of elements
in the universe. The importance of nuclear structure effects is apparent from tantalum isotopes. With very few
exceptions most heavy nuclei are produced in neutron capture processes, which take place in stars and supernovae.
New nuclear data allow for astrophysical relevant capture cross-sections to constrain the production of 180-Tantalum due to the photodisintegration process. This solves the long-standing question on which process is
primarily responsible for the production of 180-Tantalum.

3. Munirat Bashir defended her PhD thesis entitled “Design, construction and characterisation of a low-level
radioactivity counting system based on gamma-ray spectrometry with LaBr3:Ce scintillator detectors” at Stellenbosch University. In this work, the GEANT4 Monte Carlo toolkit was used to design a passive water shielding to reduce background radiation, and a new low-activity measurement system constructed. In addition a novel method of background reduction was employed by using photon time-of-flight to reduce background for environmental sample studies.

4. Wiggert Brümmer’s project was to learn more about the astrophysically important of 18Ne(4He,1H)21Na reaction.
Direct measurements with 18-Neon and 4-Helium are extremely challenging as both nuclei are gases and 18-Neon is
radioactive. Valuable information from the 1-Hydrogen decay following the 24Mg(1H,3H)22Mg reaction was studied, as in both cases the intermediate nucleus is 22-Magnesium. Corrections to time-reversed measurements of the cross section were calculated from this measured data that will in future replace theoretical values in the large programmes that synthesize the production of elements in the cosmos.

5. All carbon is produced in exploding stars from unstable 8-Berylium and 4-Helium, into a resonant excited state of 12-Carbon, named the Hoyle state. The excited states just above the Hoyle state are still of critical astrophysical
importance, and remain a challenge for many nuclear-structure models. In this region are at least one broad state but the number and nature of the states is still unclear. It is this energy region that was investigated by Kevin Li,
meticulously analysing a new 14C(1H,3H)12C data set simultaneously with several other data sets. He could
determine the energy and width of a state and establish the need for it to be recognised in future data compilations.

Visit to Jemstech

A iThemba LABS/Wits team from the High-throughput electronics laboratory within the Institute for Collider Particle Physics visited Jemstech. This electronics plant has populated the electronics boards for the first prototype made in South Africa of the Low Voltage Power Supplies (LVPS) for the upgraded Tile Calorimeter of the ATLAS Detector at CERN. The LVPS will power the future on-detector electronics of the Tile Calorimeter that is being designed for the Phase-II upgrade of this detector. South Africa is responsible for the production of over 1000 of these boards, where the PCBs are manufactured in Trax, Cape Town and passed to Jemstech for population.

The iThemba LABS/Wits team in charge of the South African production is composed of Edward Nkadimeng, Nkhosiphendule Njara, Thabo Lepota, Ryan McKenzie, Charles Sandrock, Roger van Rensburg and Bruce Mellado.

The purpose of the visit is to discuss the production of the second and close-to-final prototype of the LVPS. We discussed quality control issues, details of the bill of materials and other components. Discussed the implementation of Artificial Intelligence in the process of quality control assessment.

MAGNEX magnetic spectrograph experiment

An iThemba LABS-led experiment using the MAGNEX magnetic spectrograph at INFN-LNS in Catania took place in January. The experiment, proposed by Dr Luna Pellegri, used the 95 Mo(d,p) 96 Mo and 97 Mo(p,d) 96 Mo single-neutron transfer reactions to populate states in 96 Mo, with the intention of comparing the population of states with gamma-ray inelastic-scattering data.
The origin of the pygmy-dipole response of nuclei is one of the most important open questions in nuclear physics at the present time, with disagreement between models which support a collective interpretation and others which support 1 particle-1 hole excitations.

These reactions, which should favour the population of single-particle states may then be compared to the gamma-ray scattering data, testing whether the 1 particle-1 hole interpretation of the strength is supported by the transfer-reaction data.

FloEFD Package

Flow trajectories (arrows) and temperature profile (colour code) of the coolant within a Bismuth bombardment target.

Heat and flow calculations of complex systems are now performed at iThemba LABS using the FloEFD package for which staff from DSP, INIT and ACCELL were trained on a three day course. The software tool is integrated within the CAD package Solid Edge used for 3D modelling of mechanical designs. Optimisations can now be performed prior to manufacturing to minimise manufacturing time and costs. The picture is an example of such calculation for an early design of a bismuth bombardment target. An animation indicating flow trajectories and temperature profile can be found at:


New CNC machine

A new Computer Numerical Control vertical machine was delivered in the first week of February. The spindle speed is up to 12000 rpm, the maximum part weight is over 1 ton and the tool carousel accommodates different 30 tools. It was procured together with a CNC lathe, the two machines are expected to increase significantly the productivity of the mechanical workshop. Training will take place in the second week of February on interactive dialogue interface and high spindle speed machining. A Computer Aided Manufacturing software is being procured for more advanced machining making full use of the 3 axis.

SAINTS@tlabs Physics Summer School 2020

The SAINTS@tlabs Physics Summer School (funded through the SA-JINR Programme) is in full swing at iThemba LABS NRF.

SAINTS, the Southern African Institute for Nuclear Technology and Sciences, is headed by a Co-ordinator and operates like a Department reporting to Dr Rudzani Nemutudi (Deputy-Director) at iThemba LABS. The current SAINTS Co-ordinator is Prof. Richard Newman (jointly appointed with Stellenbosch University).

This is the second SAINTS@tlabs Physics Summer School organised by the SAINTS Office at iThemba LABS. This year there were 32 students (from 66 applicants from across the country) that participated in the school. These 32 students represent 13 universities across the country. In 2019, there were 24 students from across the country enrolled for the 2019 School.

Students at the School are exposed to lectures on a variety of topics and to hands-on activities (experiments, data analysis, coding).

The School topics include, amongst others, basic nuclear physics, radiation safety, research skills, radiation interaction with matter, accelerator physics, introduction to materials science, introduction to Python coding, nuclear spectroscopy, big data, introduction to particle physics, introduction to electronics and signal processing, introduction to radiation transport simulations, introduction to Atlas and Alice physics.

The lecturers are leaders in their respective fields and are affiliated with South African universities and the JINR (Dubna, Russia). Eight scientists from JINR made presentations at the School this year.

South African-based students who will participate in the SA-JINR Summer Practice (May – June 2020) in Dubna (Russia) will be selected from School attendees.

iThemba LABS students win awards at conferences

The International Nuclear Physics Conference was held in Glasgow, UK this year and provided an opportunity for young scientists to present their research work to an audience of experts. Two of our PhD students from iThemba LABS, working on the newly commissioned electron spectrometer, presented preliminary results of their work in a poster session at the conference. Mr. Abraham Avaa’s poster titled “Electric monopole (E0) transitions in the study of 70Ge” showcased new results and spectroscopic information. The poster gained special recognition and was awarded the 3rd best poster at the conference.

Furthermore, during the 64th South African Institute of Physics Conference, which was held at the University of Venda, the following students received awards for best contributions: Ms Sinegugu Mthembu, for MSc, Mr Abel Sithole, and Ms Thuthukile Khumalo.


Miss Siphokazi Panya Panya (right), a DST-NRF Innovation Scholarship PhD student based at MRD, was awarded the “Springer-Nature Award” for outstanding research work presented at the Inaugural International Conference on Surfaces, Coatings and Nanostructured Materials (NANOSMAT-AFRICA) conference at the Lord Charles Hotel in Somerset West from 19 to 23 November 2018.

This was the first time a prize of this nature was presented at a conference and it included a trophy, a certificate of recognition and also an access to Nanoscience prestigious database for a period of one year. The full title of Miss Panya Panya’s presentation is: Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) on Geological Samples: Hardness Differentiation.

Mrs Touria Khamliche (left) won the prize of the best poster in the PhD category. The title of her poster presentation is: Thermal Conductivity Enhancement in Laser Liquid Solid Interaction Fabricated Cu Nanoparticles Ethylene Glycol Based Nanofluids.

CPUT Energy Institute meets with Materials Research department

A meeting between Dr Mlungisi Nkosi and a delegation from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT)’s Energy Institute (EI) lead by Prof MTE Kahn, Director of the Institute (EI), took place on 16 September 2019 at the Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering, CPUT. The purpose of the meeting was to explore and discuss projects by the two departments that could potentially share expertise and knowledge.

One of the proposed projects is aimed at fabricating cost effective selective solar absorbers (SSAs) coatings by depositing oxide thin films onto different substrates. The fabricated SSAs will be used to harvest the sunlight and convert it to heat for modular Solar Powered Aquaphonics.

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