Page 131 - UCT Research Report 2011

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nuclear physics; to nanoscience (using groups of atoms);
to the flow and movement of matter (macro material) in
applied physics. The department is also mindful of the
exciting prospects for research provided by the building of
the Square Kilometre Array telescope, which should bring
groups in physics, applied mathematics, and astronomy
closer together,” says Professor Buffler.
The theoretical physicists in the department are working
at the international cutting edge of the development of
theories aimed at determining the properties of the matter
created microseconds after the Big Bang, and recreated
on Earth in accelerators such as the LHC at CERN.
Nuclear physics research in the department uses the world-
class facilities of iThemba LABS (national laboratory),
where there is a 200 MeV cyclotron providing beams for
fundamental, applied, and medical research. For example,
the AFRODITE array of high purity germanium gamma
ray detectors is used to study the structure of nuclei in
high spin states. iThemba LABS has plans for significant
growth, most notably through the introduction of a second
cyclotron that will deliver radioactive beams for research.
Solid state research also takes place at iThemba LABS,
as well as within the NanoSciences Innovation Centre in
the department, whose work on printed electronics, for
example, has tremendous commercial potential in many
contexts including food and pharmaceutical packaging,
retail, transport and logistics, aerospace and automotive
engineering, health care, marketing, and advertising.
There is also very high profile work on the development
of models of flow within systems that are important in
industry, such as the use of tumbling mills in the minerals
industry in South Africa. The work relies on theoretical
and computational modelling, and measurements using
Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanners adapted for
Positron Emission Particle Tracking, for which a dedicated
laboratory was recently established by the department at
iThemba LABS.
Finally, research in the department focuses on physics
education at university level. These activities often feed
back into curriculum development in the department,
to the benefit of both students and lecturers. “The
department believes strongly in being research-led in
its teaching, by allowing courses to be flavoured by
the research in the department and be improved by
influences from research into teaching and learning,”
says Professor Buffler.
All these fields of discovery feed into a larger scientific
body of knowledge contributing to discoveries such as the
Higgs boson – which is also known as the ‘God particle’;
so-called in the popular press because of its possible
role in producing a fundamental property of elementary
particles. The Higgs is crucial to our understanding of
the structure of matter. It is to physics what DNA is to life.
Perhaps a more apt appellation would be the ‘Champagne
bottle particle’ (apparently the bottom of the bottle is in the
shape of the Higgs potential).
This, and other research emanating from physics at UCT,
has the potential to change our understanding of the
world. The laws of physics are eternal and universal; with
science’s constant search for the truth, elucidating them is
one of the triumphs of mankind.
UCT NanoSciences Innovation Centre’s Associate Professor Margit Härting (right) and students Ulrich Mannl, Batsirai
Magunje, and Stanley Walton show off a newly printed tiger design large area temperature sensor, produced in
collaboration with Austin-based company Novacentrix, using their unique copper ink and processing methods. The
design is the first step towards replacing expensive – and ecologically questionable – silver inks. For this and other
innovations, Associate Professor Härting and colleague Associate Professor David Britton of the Department of Physics
won the 2011 Printed Electronics USA Best in Show Award.