Sisters do it Together!
Sisters Ms Charlotte (BSc Honours) and Ms Philippa Hillebrand (BSc Physics) graduated together summa cum laude from the School of Chemistry and Physics.
The sisters, who grew up in a science-orientated family, were both encouraged to pursue whatever studies they wanted to after they left high school… and both chose Physics. They say the support of their family has been invaluable during the course of their studies.
‘Physics and science are the doorway to the future, in that understanding the way the world works allows us to develop more natural technologies to aid human life,’ said Philippa.
The sisters attended Trinityhouse High School in Johannesburg before moving to KwaZulu-Natal, where Philippa completed high school at The Wykeham Collegiate. They enrolled at UKZN for its proximity to home and enjoyed the support of the Pietermaritzburg Physics Discipline, whose staff members were always approachable and helpful.
‘The interaction with the academic staff and postgrads that were passionate about their work was inspiring,’ said Charlotte of her time in the School of Chemistry and Physics.
Pursuing the study of physics posed its own unique challenges for each sister. ‘Synthesising the different approaches different lecturers and textbooks take to a topic can be tricky, although worthwhile,’ said Charlotte.
‘Physics courses are often intensive as physics has so many different aspects to cover in a single degree, and the science can be difficult to test in a traditional manner, which can be a challenge to deal with as a student,’ said Philippa.
Overcoming these challenges resulted in growth for each girl. ‘Physics stretches one’s ability to describe the world around us to its limits, and then we find ways to move those limits,’ said Charlotte. ‘The interplay between maths and physics is also fascinating; sometimes we invent new maths to make more physics possible; and sometimes a mathematical idea that seemed very abstract turns out to have some very interesting applications in physics.’
‘I found that studying physics broadens your outlook on problem solving,’ said Philippa, ‘and I also found that the way in which physics intersects with other disciplines within science to be interesting.’
Charlotte plans to continue with physics research in order to fill in the gaps in knowledge as well as communicate exciting developments in the field to the public. ‘Increased involvement in science communication – letting people know about what scientists are doing – is a personal goal of mine,’ Charlotte explained. She is currently enrolled for her Masters in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cape Town (UCT), in high energy physics.
Philippa is registered for a BSc Honours in Mathematics of Computer Science at UCT and could potentially apply this along with her physics knowledge to a proposed project with the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). She plans to go into the field of teaching after completing her honours. ‘I want to be a part of making sure that more school children have the opportunity to study physics by providing a solid foundation at high school level,’ she said.
By Christine Cuénod