PhD Graduate and Mum of Twins Aims to Make an Impact in Sanitation

PhD Graduate and Mum of Twins Aims to Make an Impact in Sanitation
Dr Preyan Arumugam-Nanoolal with her twin boys, Matteo (left) and Mikhail.

From achieving an undergraduate, honours and master’s degree in her 20s to a PhD and set of twins in her 30s, it is no wonder that Dr Preyan Arumugam-Nanoolal compares graduating to reaching the top of a mountain after a very long, challenging hike.

Yes, there have been times when I wanted to give up, find a job and finally transition from the student stage of my life but my family, who have been my biggest supporters managed to keep me on track,’ she said.

After completing her undergraduate and honours degrees in Biological Sciences in 2008 and 2009, respectively, Arumugam-Nanoolal went on to complete her Master’s degree in Biology in 2011. During this time, she also worked as a research assistant, teaching assistant and an ad hoc lecturer in the School of Life Sciences (Westville campus).

An article about a child drowning in a pit toilet was a pivotal moment in her academic career and she decided to focus on research that would improve sanitation in South Africa. Her PhD journey began in 2015, incidentally in a field she had no training in. Her motivation was also owing to the fact that formerly she had a “flush-and-forget” mindset, not interested in how and if sanitation waste is treated.

Taking a transdisciplinary approach, Arumugam-Nanoolal’s PhD focused on sanitation options for unserved communities such as informal settlements in eThekwini. ‘A flushing toilet has always been regarded as the gold standard in sanitation,’ she said. ‘Yet it is not practical for a water-scarce country like South Africa to continue to use potable water for flushing.

‘Municipalities are sometimes forced to provide waterborne sanitation for informal communities as a result of the legacies of apartheid that saw inequalities in service delivery, especially when it came to sanitation,’ explained Arumugam-Nanoolal. She reiterated that even if these communities are provided with water-efficient toilets in their households, the wastewater that is generated needs to be treated, while ageing and poorly maintained infrastructure in conventional wastewater treatment works mean that it needs to be rerouted.

Arumugam-Nanoolal recommends a decentralised approach to sanitation: ‘DEWATS (Decentralised Wastewater Treatment Systems) provide an alternative to conventional large wastewater treatment works, in that the raw domestic wastewater is gravity-fed to a series of modules which uses physical and biological treatment processes requiring no electricity or chemicals and is thus, more affordable.

‘Moreover, since it is smaller in area than conventional wastewater treatment works, it can be constructed near the point of generation, filling the gap between the served and unserved communities provided with waterborne sanitation.’

Arumugam-Nanoolal’s PhD research evaluated different designs of DEWATS to determine which produced effluent quality safe for discharge back into the environment. She conducted her research in the field at an existing demonstration-scale DEWATS constructed in eThekwini treating raw domestic wastewater from 84 households.

Grateful that her research has been relevant, Arumugam-Nanoolal explained: ‘I have been fortunate to be a part of a group of multidisciplinary scientists and engineers at UKZN’s Water Sanitation & Hygiene Research & Development Centre (WASH R&D) who focus on applied research and work closely with the eThekwini Water and Sanitation unit through a Memorandum of Agreement.

She was supervised by Drs Jon Pocock and Chris Brouckaert and is currently employed as a senior research scientist at the WASH R&D Centre.

She is grateful for the many mentors who motivated her and especially her best friend and life partner, her husband Mr Prenay Nanoolal, who ‘keeps me on track!’

‘Preyan’s resourcefulness and resilience augurs well for her future,’ said her former Life Sciences supervisor, Professor Yogis Naidoo.

Words: Swastika Maney

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan

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PhD Study Delves into Future Wireless Channel Models

PhD Study Delves into Future Wireless Channel Models
Dr Mohamed Elmezughi was awarded his PhD in Electronic Engineering.

Dr Mohamed Elmezughi was awarded a PhD in Electronic Engineering for his research on novel improvements of empirical wireless channel models and proposals for machine-learning-based path loss prediction models for future communication networks. He was supervised by Professor Thomas Afullo.

‘In his research on 5G/6G networks, Elmezughi proposed new path loss models that improve the standard close-in and floating-intercept models at millimetric wave frequencies,’ said Afullo.

‘His study further investigated higher-order logarithmic dependency of the standard close-in path loss model on the distance between the transmitter and the receiver. Finally, he evaluated the performance of several machine learning methods and proposed a neural network-based path loss model.’

Having graduated as the top Electronic Engineering student at the University of Tripoli for his undergraduate degree and completed his MSc cum laude at UKZN under his mentor Afullo in record time and with research publications to his name, Elmezughi decided to remain at UKZN for his PhD to make the most of the experience, knowledge and skills he had accumulated and the University’s supportive work environment and research facilities. Two years later he has proudly donned the red PhD gown.

‘My research field focuses on millimeter-wave wireless channel modeling for 5G and 6G communication systems,’ explained Elmezughi. ‘My PhD work presents novel improvements of well-known wireless channel models and proposes machine-learning-based path loss prediction models for future communication networks.

‘The research findings (which were published in four Q1 international journals and presented at three international conferences) revealed their prediction accuracy compared to existing standard models.’

Elmezughi’s interest in this field was motivated by the fact that path loss is the primary factor that determines the overall coverage of networks.

‘Designing reliable wireless communication systems requires accurate path loss prediction models,’ he said. ‘Future wireless mobile systems will mainly rely on the super-high frequency (SHF) and the millimetre-wave (mmWave) frequency bands owing to the massive bandwidth required to meet projected users’ demand, such as the needs of the 5G and 6G wireless systems and other high-speed multimedia services.

‘However, these bands are more sensitive and exhibit a different propagation behaviour from frequency bands below 6 GHz. Improving existing models and developing new ones are vital to characterise the wireless communication channel in both indoor and outdoor environments for future SHF and mmWave services.’

Elmezughi said the results of his study are vital for planning, evaluating and optimising future wireless communication networks since the proposed models showed extremely high accuracy in fitting real measurement data compared to well-known models and could be reliable models to predict path loss for 5G and 6G indoor wireless channels.

His future plans lie in academia, with the aim of eventually becoming a full professor. He dreams of founding a private university in Libya, which he says will make a massive difference to his home country.

He paid tribute to his parents, brothers and sisters for their support, especially his brother Dr Khaled Elmezughi for his assistance and guidance over the years.

‘Finally, I would like to offer my thanks, appreciation and gratitude to Almighty Allah, who created, taught and guided me,’ said Elmezughi. ‘With the blessings Allah has bestowed upon me, I am now receiving my PhD with health, family and hope for a wonderful future (and tears of joy on my cheeks). I am fully aware that without Allah’s support and help, I would not have reached this level, and this research work would not have seen the light of day.’

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan

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Changing the World One Step at a Time

Changing the World One Step at a Time
Mr Yasthiel Kemraj with (from left) his father, Mr Deavesh Kemraj; mother, Mrs Nisha Kemraj; and girlfriend, Ms Tarika Panday.

Mr Yasthiel Kemraj lives by Mahatma Gandhi’s credo, ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.’

Achieving his BSc in Civil Engineering summa cum laude places him in a good position to achieve his goals.

For Kemraj, graduating marks the end of a unique four-year experience that involved making new friends and learning new skills and values. ‘Graduating indicates that I am now capable of becoming a contributing member of society,’ he said. ‘Having acquired some of the tools and skills required to make me a functioning asset to a company can assist me in making a contribution to the country and the civil engineering industry.’

An avid love for maths, physics and engineering graphics and design in high school motivated his choice of degree. ‘Civil Engineering appealed the most owing to being able to contribute to the development of the country by providing infrastructure and service delivery,’ he said. He added that there are no engineers in his family, save for his late grandfather whom he never met.

The ex-Northwood Boys High School learner chose UKZN because he wanted to have a traditional university experience within a research-driven and innovative environment. ‘The BScEng degree offered at UKZN is also recognised nationwide and world-wide.’

As a top Civil Engineering graduate, Kemraj was nominated for the 2022 IPGIP (Integrated Postgraduate Industry Partnership) programme, which he won under the supervision of Dr Joy Adu. His project examined effective wastewater management processes to secure a sustainable water supply in domestic households.

‘To curb water wastage, a greywater treatment system was built to channel, treat and store greywater from a domestic kitchen. This system yielded positive results as the greywater constituents reduced in concentration. The results showed the treated greywater effluent could be used for non-potable purposes,’ said Adu.

Kemraj is currently a graduate engineer in the Bridges and Buildings Division at Naidu Consulting. He intends to obtain his professional registration within the next five years and to become a specialist in his chosen field. ‘I am enjoying my time at this company, which allows me to develop my skills and interests in a nurturing and informative environment as the company has several large-scale projects, which I hope to learn from and be a contributing member of the teams tasked with tackling them,’ he said.

Kemraj attributes his success to his parents and girlfriend, who provided him with the support and balance needed to complete this difficult degree.

An avid Manchester United supporter, Kemraj never misses a game and several hours are spent on weekends analysing the games and teams, and considering tactics and formations. If not watching a game, he is either playing indoor football or working out at the gym.

Words: Swastika Maney

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan

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PhD Graduate Develops his Academic Path with Important Cosmological Research

PhD Graduate Develops his Academic Path with Important Cosmological Research
Mangosuthu University of Technology lecturer, Dr Sfundo Gumede graduates with a PhD in Applied Mathematics.

For Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) lecturer Dr Sfundo Gumede, attaining his PhD in Applied Mathematics for research on relativistic shear-free fluids - important fluids in astrophysics and cosmology - is a step towards propelling his career in academia.

The first in his family to attain a university degree, let alone at the level of PhD, an academic career was an unfamiliar concept to Gumede’s family, but they trusted his decision to pursue this path and lent him all their support. He was born and raised in Mtubatuba in northern KwaZulu-Natal, where he completed all his schooling.

He grew up curious about the structure and the origin of the universe and what underpinned the behaviour of astronomical objects like stars.

He initially set out to qualify as a mathematics and science educator, but an encounter with someone at the University of Zululand’s (UNIZULU) admissions office who saw his excellent results in mathematics led him to enrol for a Bachelor of Science that broadened his career options.

As he studied mathematics further, he learnt about the branch that concerned astrophysics, which he said fit with his curiosity about the workings of the universe. As he delved further into the subject, he learnt that the physics of the world and astronomical objects can be described using the laws of mathematics.

At UNIZULU, Gumede completed his Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Statistics and Bachelor of Science honours in Mathematics with distinction before going on to complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Higher Education at Rhodes University.

Having learnt about what an academic career entailed, Gumede aspired to end up in academia and wanted to study to PhD level full-time, but his responsibility to support his mother and siblings led to him joining the workforce after he completed his honours degree, achieving all of his subsequent degrees part-time.

Gumede joined MUT in Umlazi as a junior lecturer and chose to continue with master’s studies at UKZN thanks to its proximity to MUT and its high rating in terms of its postgraduate offerings, especially in mathematics. He has now chalked up more than 10 years’ experience as a lecturer.

He graduated with his master’s from UKZN summa cum laude and continued with PhD studies under the supervision of Professors Sunil Maharaj and Kesh Govinder. His topic tackled the Einstein-Maxwell field equations, part of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity that describes gravitational interactions between bodies.

Gumede sought to find new solutions to these equations for relativistic fluids since exact solutions to the field equations can be used to investigate the physical properties of observable cosmological phenomena like stars. His research applied mathematical equations to the study of physical phenomena as part of his interest in using various techniques to solve differential equations.

This research resulted in new exact solutions to the Einstein-Maxwell field equations in four-dimensional and higher-dimensional spaces, a significant advance in the subject. He has published papers, on First Integrals of Shear-Free Fluids and Complexity and on Charged Shear-Free Fluids and Complexity in First Integrals in the Entropy journal, with a third publication forthcoming.

Achieving such excellent results for his PhD was challenging primarily in terms of time management as Gumede had to balance full-time lecturing with his studies, as well as prioritise time with his wife and two young children.

‘For me, obtaining a PhD is a dream come true and the culmination of my hard work and resilience,’ said Gumede.

Gumede is committed to his career in academia, aiming to develop his research expertise further to progress in the field and gain new insights into the universe that has always fascinated him. He plans to initiate research collaborations with the contacts he has made through his own studies and supervise postgraduate students as he expands his own research.

He credited Maharaj and Govinder for their support throughout his studies and thanked his family, friends and colleagues for the motivation, inspiration and contributions they provided.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan

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Summa Cum Laude Graduate Aims to Reach New Heights

<em>Summa Cum Laude</em> Graduate Aims to Reach New Heights
Summa cum laude for BSc in Mechanical Engineering graduate, Mr Rylan Odayan.

Mr Rylan Odayan who graduated with a BSc in Mechanical Engineering summa cum laude lives by the credo, “Tough times never last; only tough people last”.

Having to acclimatise from in-person contact learning in his first-year of study, to online in his second year and hybrid learning for the last two years towards a degree that is historically extremely demanding, Odayan is ecstatic to be graduating in the stipulated time with exceptional results.

With an avid interest in cars and putting together complicated Lego sets, Odayan always knew that Mechanical Engineering was something he wanted to pursue. ‘I decided to complete my studies at UKZN because of their strong Mechanical Engineering Department,’ he said.

‘Rylan showed an interest in cars and structures from a young age, watching shows like Top Gear, MythBusters, Trading up and Wheeler Dealers,’ confirmed his proud father, Mr Poovie Odayan.

Odayan’s insatiable appetite for knowledge and enquiring mind had him planning ahead even during his undergraduate years. He is currently studying towards a Masters in Mechanical Engineering at UKZN’s Aerospace Systems Research Institute (ASRI). ‘Aerospace is a very innovative field that uses advanced technologies not often seen in other applications,’ he said. ‘Seeing this made me want to learn more and contribute.’

He is investigating the simulation of the trajectories taken by sounding rockets from the Overberg Test Range (OTR), as well as the general weather patterns experienced in the area in recent years. ‘By simulating the trajectories of sounding rockets and analysing historical weather data, I aim to determine the types of missions that can be conducted with various sounding rockets from OTR,’ he explained.

He hopes that his research will impact society. ‘If more sounding rocket missions occur from OTR, this will be cheaper than the current option of launching them overseas. Having local capacity could also grow the economy as more services will be required in this area,’ he said.

Odayan’s enquiring mind and inquisitive nature were always encouraged and appreciated by his parents, for which he is eternally grateful.

Said ASRI Director, Professor Mike Brooks: ‘After a stellar performance in his Mechanical Engineering undergraduate degree, the Aerospace Systems Research Institute is delighted to welcome Rylan as a postgraduate student where his master’s work will focus on the analysis of prospective sounding rocket operations from South Africa.

‘He has settled in well with ASRI and has already contributed to the recent success of the team during its March Phoenix hybrid rocket launch campaign in the Western Cape. It’s a pleasure to welcome another outstanding engineer into the ASRI fold and we look forward to working with Rylan.’

Words: Swastika Maney

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan

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Galactical Master’s Research a Step Towards a Career in Astrophysics

Galactical Master’s Research a Step Towards a Career in Astrophysics
Mr Damien Cole Ragavan earns his MSc in Applied Mathematics degree cum laude.

Mr Damien Cole Ragavan earned his master’s degree cum laude for poring over data from the Atacama Cosmology Telescope Data Release 5 (ACT DR5) that helped him study galaxy evolution within galaxy clusters.

Ragavan pursued this topic under the auspices of UKZN’s Astrophysics Research Centre (ARC), supervised by Professor Matt Hilton. It involved measuring the optical galaxy luminosity functions (LF) for Sunayev-Zel’dovich selected galaxy clusters retrieved from the world-class ACT telescope and developing advanced computer algorithms to study this recent data.

He explained that the galaxy LF is important as it provides valuable information about galaxy evolution and formation, and the work he undertook had never been done on this dataset of galaxy clusters in such a large amount of cosmic time, namely in the redshift range of 0.20 < z < 0.80.

Ragavan found that the composite LFs are independent of cluster mass and discovered a disagreement between his study and previous field studies, confirming previous studies that suggest the cluster LF is different to the field LF.

He conducted his research through the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting physical interaction with his peers and supervisors, which added to the pressure of poor internet connectivity at his home, exacerbated by load-shedding.

Despite this, Ragavan did well, and now that he has graduated he plans to begin his PhD studies as part of the South African Rubin Observatory/Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) Programme at the University of the Witwatersrand. This is part of his quest to pursue a career in astronomy, a field that piqued his interest when he toured UKZN’s Astronomy Department in his final-year of high school.

Having always been fascinated by science and mathematics, Ragavan was captivated by a talk on astronomy at the University and excited about the possibilities offered in this discipline, which motivated him to achieve excellent results that gained him admission.

He completed his undergraduate degree in Applied Mathematics and Physics through the ARC and his Honours degree in Physics through the National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme (NASSP) at UKZN, achieving a summa cum laude pass for the latter, which involved a project on fossil galaxy groups. He is also an invited member of the Golden Key International Honour Society.

During his time in the NASSP, he acquired valuable skills in computer programming, space science and theoretical concepts in the fields of astrophysics, physics and mathematics.

Ragavan gave credit firstly to Jesus Christ, saying that without his faith he would not be where he is, and thanked his parents, Jerome and Chireen, and his sister, Caitlyn, for their constant support, encouragement, prayers and love. He acknowledged Hilton for his mentorship, guidance and responsiveness, and thanked the ARC and NASSP for making his studies possible and equipping him with the skills required for a career in astronomy. He also thanked his friends and colleagues for their support and encouragement.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan

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Summa Cum Laude Rocket Man is Well Grounded

<em>Summa Cum Laude</em> Rocket Man is Well Grounded
Rocket man, Mr Jordan Silver.

Knowing how things work and what makes them work has fascinated BSc Mechanical Engineering summa cum laude graduate, Mr Jordan Silver from a young age.

From getting into trouble for disassembling and not really getting the reassembly of precious birthday and Christmas gifts right during his younger years, to spending endless enjoyable hours lending his dad and grandad a hand in the mechanical workshop learning how to work with different types of machinery on the farm, a degree in Mechanical Engineering was his obvious career path.

The second graduate in his family, following in his brother’s footsteps, Silver appreciates the huge achievement this is for himself and his family and is eternally grateful for the sacrifices they made.

‘Getting to where I am now has not been easy,’ said the ex-Westville Boys’ High School learner. Before choosing UKZN, Silver did extensive research on the options at other universities across South Africa and solicited the opinions of friends who were already enrolled on the courses, departments, costs and campus life at the various institutions. His final choice was between the University of Cape Town and UKZN and because of the excellent global rating of the Mechanical Engineering Department at UKZN, value for money and proximity to home, it was his first choice.

Silver remembers the Dean of Engineering, Professor Glen Bright’s welcome address in his first year: ‘Look at the four people around you, because there is a 90% chance that only one out of the five of you will be left at the end of the four years,’ he had said. ‘To think that I am one out of five is indescribable and it is an incredible honour to say that I am not only a graduate and have earned my degree but a graduate Engineering student who completed my studies within the prescribed time.

‘I clearly remember in first year walking out of our exam venue feeling mentally and physically depleted, with an “all I need is 50%’ mindset.”’ Silver describes that test as a humbling experience that gave him a rude awaking that undergrad was no longer high school and that university was a completely different playing field. With some changes in habits and learning patterns he quickly adapted. ‘I worked night and day, often working seven days a week with few hours to spare since the workload was so intense throughout the degree,’ he said. A summa cum laude final pass was his reward.

Silver said the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic meant that his study methodology had to change completely. ‘I am a social and auditory learner. I was fortunate to be able to adapt my learning style but it took months to get used to, resulting in my marks fluctuating across the board and causing some stressful moments,’ he said. Nonetheless, he describes his undergraduate journey as memorable and enjoyable with numerous friendships and extensive knowledge being acquired.

‘For my postgraduate studies, it was again a simple choice of choosing UKZN as not only had I grown roots within the Mechanical Engineering Department, forming relationships with the staff, students, and my future colleagues, but the project I will work on is one-of-a-kind and something that truly intrigues me,’ he said.

For his MSc, Silver will complete a performance analysis simulation for the Aerospace Systems Research Institute (ASRI) SAFFIRE rocket engine to determine the best method of supplying the rocket propellants to the combustion chamber as well as the most appropriate cooling method for the nozzle and combustion chamber.

‘One of the deciding factors for my master’s was the opportunity to improve my existing skills and knowledge while learning an array of new ones, which will increase my competency, making me a better and more complete engineer as there is always something new to learn,’ he said. ‘Furthermore, the project I will be working on will be part of the SAFFIRE project, an original, prestigious and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I could not pass up.’

With the arrival of the fourth industrial revolution, there has been a dramatic rise in micro and nanosatellite deployment by countries around the globe. South Africa has a well-developed satellite industry but depends on other countries to launch them, which can be costly and is often met with delays. Against this backdrop, the ASRI is pursuing the development of a small satellite launch vehicle (CLV) to provide South Africa with sovereign launch capability. The current focus is CLV’s booster engine - the South African First Integrated Rocket Engine (SAFFIRE). CLV will provide South Africa with an economically sustainable launch service, promoting economic growth and stimulating the local aerospace industry. Silver hopes that his master’s work will impact society directly or indirectly as it will allow ASRI to verify existing SAFFIRE design parameters and findings efficiently and quickly, without extensive manufacturing and testing costs and with a significantly reduced lead time.

‘After completing my master’s, I would love to stay on at the ASRI and hopefully explore becoming a research scientist/engineer,’ he said.

He also has an avid passion for motorsports and Plan B would be to explore a career as an engineer with a motorsports team. Not completely ruling out the possibility of a PhD, he would like to gain some industry experience first.

Academic Leader for Mechanical Engineering, Professor Glen Sneddon said: ‘I’d like to congratulate Jordan on an excellent set of results and narrowly achieving the status of best student in Mechanical Engineering in the face of some tough competition from his peers. Summa cum laude is no mean achievement in Engineering and his success is made sweeter by his decision to stay on and do postgraduate research in the Aerospace Systems Research Institute where we have assembled some of the best young minds in Mechanical Engineering in the country.’

Words: Swastika Maney

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan

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UKZN Meets Industry Need for Data Scientists

UKZN Meets Industry Need for Data Scientists
Statistics staff with Postgraduate Diploma in Data Science graduates (front row from left): Ms Fathima Ally, Ms Nontsikelelo Pam Sosibo, Ms Sumeshini Moodley, Ms Sanera Maharaj, and Mr Mohammed Uzayr Akubaraly.

UKZN has graduated its first postgraduate cohort of Data Scientists - with six students awarded Postgraduate Diplomas in Data Science and a further five earning MSc degrees.

‘The PGDip and Masters in Data Science programmes were conceptualised in 2016 and launched in 2021,’ explained senior lecturer in Statistics and coordinator of the Data Science programmes, Dr Danielle Roberts. ‘These qualifications are taught postgraduate degrees that are aligned to the Data Science needs of business and industry. They provide graduates in Statistics/Computer Science with the opportunity to further their studies in the fast-changing world of data.’

Professors Delia North and Temesgen Zewotir conceptualised the bouquet of Data Science degrees at UKZN a number of years ago. North, the former Dean and Head of the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, said that the degrees were infused by knowledge gained following a 2016 visit to a number of universities in the US who had successfully linked their PhD taught Data Science programmes to business and industry, including the University of Cincinnati, the University of North Carolina and Kennesaw State University.

‘These postgraduate degrees are central to the Data Science Unit for Business and Industry at UKZN, which is linked to the SAS Global Academic Programme,’ said North.

North and Zewotir have national and international profiles in Data Science and Data Analytics, evidenced by both being elected members of the International Statistics Institute (ISI). They contribute at many levels to international sub-committees and focus groups, including the ISI Data Science Committee, the ISI Association for Statistics Education and the ISI Capacity Building Committee. They further contribute to Data Science initiatives on the continent and nationally, evidenced by being elected as SA Stats Association National Thought Leader 2022 (North) and Africa Centre of Excellence for Data Science (Zewotir).

‘Graduates in Statistics and Computer Science are highly sought after by business and industry, resulting in many potential postgraduate students being lost to the Institution,’ explained North. ‘The taught PGDip and Master’s degrees in Data Science were designed to give these graduates an opportunity to study part-time, whilst doing their project modules (a major part of each of these degrees) on a topic from their workplace.’

North said that the postgraduate diploma was designed to cater for the general Science/Commerce/Engineering graduate who did not have the profile required to enter the Masters in Data Science. ‘It gives them an opportunity for catch-up and then further study in advanced Data Analytics, if they have at least two years’ experience with data in the workplace.’

She added that the PGDip Data Science degree attracted a tremendous response as many applicants realised the value of high-end data analytics in the fast-changing world of data, and the PGDip takes them to level 4 data analytics needs in the current data era.

Applications for the two postgraduate offerings rocketed from 40 in 2021 to 80 in 2022 and an astounding 143 for 2023. 

‘The PGDip has had the majority of the applications,’ said North. ‘We have had to turn away applicants. All of the students in our PGDip programme have full-time jobs, but do the programme to upskill or to be able to move into the Data Science industry.’ She added that many of the students’ studies are funded by their employer.

Roberts commented that the course adds real-life value as students are exposed to a range of analytical data science skills that are relevant to industry. ‘They receive advanced training in a variety of software that allows them to adapt to any industry,’ she said. ‘In both the PGDip and master’s programmes, students are required to do an industry project where they are expected to use a data-driven approach to solve a real-world problem. This gives them the hands-on experience needed for the workplace.

‘We have had a lot of positive feedback from our students who have been able to apply the skills they learnt in the programme within their workplace, thereby adding value in their current positions and enhancing their careers.’

North noted that whilst a handful of other South African universities are now offering similar programmes, UKZN’s is the most affordable and in addition is coupled with quality teaching. ‘We have had many requests to share our Data Science initiatives, which address the full spectrum of data analytics needs.’

Roberts added that a further aspect of the link with industry is a feeder programme to the Masters in Data Science, namely a BSc degree majoring in Data Science. ‘This is a grouping of specific modules (two years of Mathematics, and three years of Statistics and Computer Science), which forms the base for study in the direction of the postgraduate Data Science degrees. Furthermore, it provides an opportunity for other Science majors to develop Data Science degrees, using the BSc Data Science as a base.’

In addition to the 11 postgraduate conferrals, a further 24 graduates were awarded their undergraduate BSc degrees in Data Science at the 2023 graduation ceremonies (the second class to graduate, 2022 being the first year UKZN awarded this particular degree). The figures show that the BSc Data Science degree has had a very significant effect in attracting top school leavers in the catchment area to UKZN - no less than a quarter of the BSc Data Science class of 2023 graduated summa cum laude!

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan

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Engineering Master’s Graduate Passionate about Sustainable Resources Management

Engineering Master’s Graduate Passionate about Sustainable Resources Management
Ms Nosipho Dlamini graduates with a Master’s in Agricultural Engineering.

Ms Nosipho Dlamini is celebrating graduating with her Masters in Agricultural (Bioresources) Engineering after developing integrated climate change adaptation strategies using the Water-Energy-Food nexus approach in the Buffalo River Catchment, situated in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).

Originally from KwaSanti close to Pinetown, Dlamini enrolled for Engineering at UKZN as her first-choice programme and institution. She initially completed a one-year certificate course through UKZN’s University Intensive Tuition for Engineering (UNITE) Programme, which solidified her intention to study Engineering. Having always enjoyed science and geography at school, she wanted to pursue studies in science and design, and the inclusion of elements of sustainability drew her to the Discipline of Agricultural Engineering.

Encouraged by her family, in which she will be the first engineer and the first master’s graduate, she took her academic pursuits beyond an undergraduate degree, setting out to specialise in the transdisciplinary field of water engineering.

‘I love the technicality and challenge of engineering, and seeing the science hold in practical applications,’ she said.

Encountering ideas about the application of engineering to develop policy and implementation plans through the Hydrology 324 module during her studies, Dlamini spent time after graduating with her undergraduate degree conceptualising the work she would undertake for her master’s. This fell within the most intense year of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020, so Dlamini was able to commence with her studies in 2021 after conferring with her supervisor, Dr Aidan Senzanje on a suitable topic.

Senzanje led Dlamini to her topic by introducing the Water-Energy-Food (WEF) nexus, an approach that appealed to her for its integration of and sustainable management of all these resources.

Dlamini’s research formed part of a Water Research Commission (WRC) project titled: Water-Energy-Food Nexus as a Sustainable Approach for Advancing Food and Nutrition Security and Achieving SDGs 2, 6 and 7 with Specific Attention to Efficient Energy Use in Food Production, and it tapped into relevant topics including climate change and sustainability.

The catchment she focused on, which is situated in northern KwaZulu-Natal, receives considerable amounts of water, but water security issues persist owing to inadequate infrastructure, distribution and management. Dlamini’s work involved integrating different models to assess climate change impacts on surface water availability, which involved the arduous task of transferring data between different models.

Dlamini triumphed, however, developing confidence in her research and publishing a chapter of her thesis, contributing to the growing knowledge on this topic. She presented her research at several conferences, with her main highlights being presenting at the 24th International Congress on Irrigation and Drainage in Australia, and at the Kenya Society of Environmental, Biological and Agricultural Engineers Conference in 2021. She also received second prize for her oral presentation in the School of Engineering at UKZN’s Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium in 2022.

Dlamini received support through the Department of Higher Education and Training’s Nurturing Emerging Scholars Programme, which will enable her to commence a one-year internship now that her master’s is complete, after which she plans to return to academia to pursue a PhD and then build a career working in a research institute or non-governmental organisation where she can implement her research.

Dlamini thanked Senzanje and her co-supervisor Professor Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi who motivated her to complete and publish her research. She also thanked her uncle and her mother who encouraged her to undertake postgraduate studies, and friends and other family members who provided moral support.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan

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Astrophysics Comes Naturally to Summa Cum Laude Graduate

Astrophysics Comes Naturally to <em>Summa Cum Laude</em> Graduate
Ms Tasmiya Papiah graduates with her Honours in Applied Mathematics summa cum laude.

Ms Tasmiya Papiah graduated with her Honours degree in Applied Mathematics summa cum laude after undertaking her studies through UKZN’s Astrophysics Research Centre (ARC), an experience that brought with it opportunities to attend conferences and research sites and complete a project on drone-beam mapping for the Hydrogen Intensity and Real-time Analysis eXperiment (HIRAX) radio telescope array.

Papiah attended Greenbury Secondary School in Phoenix and completed her undergraduate studies at UKZN, an institution she was drawn to because it offers an Astrophysics degree.

‘After I spoke to people who had attended UKZN and attended an astronomy workshop in matric and a talk by one of the astronomy lecturers, my mind was set on UKZN,’ said Papiah, who admired the University’s facilities and the level of education and dedication offered by staff.

In her honours year, Papiah was able to attend astronomy conferences across South Africa, her first exposure to conferences, and an opportunity to expand her knowledge of astrophysics and meet local and international experts in the field. This also helped her to hone her public presentation skills and confidence, which she initially found challenging.

Papiah was also able to visit sites including the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory and the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), which she described as a dream come true.

Her honours project involved drone-beam mapping for HIRAX that comprised a characterisation of the transmitting antenna. This involved intense work with instrumentation and some Python Programming, which equipped her with important radio frequency skills and even practical engineering skills such as soldering cables.

She said that her excellent results were because she found a subject that she enjoyed and a field in which she plans on building a successful career. A perfectionist by nature, she dedicated a lot of time to her studies before striking a balance that helped her avoid mental and physical burnout by still prioritising doing things she enjoyed and spending time with friends and family.

Continuing to master’s studies in the ARC is a natural choice for Papiah, who is extending her work on HIRAX by performing an analysis of drone-beam mapping data from the HIRAX testbed array, an important analysis for determining whether beam calibration can be achieved using drone technology. The HIRAX project aims to map most of the southern sky in radio continuum and neutral hydrogen line emission over a frequency range of 400 to 800 MHz.

Papiah is considering various career paths within astronomy, from pure research to applied astronomy or astrophysics, to specialising in data science or working as a radio frequency engineer. She is using her time as a student to explore all her options and aptitudes.

She thanked her supervisor Professor Kavilan Moodley for providing her with amazing opportunities including the chance to work on the HIRAX project, and Drs Anthony Walters and Mugundhan Vijayaraghavan for their assistance and training during her honours project, which taught her skills that will be applicable throughout her career. She also acknowledged her parents for their support, sacrifices and encouragement. ‘It is because of them that I am where I am today, and for that, I am forever grateful,’ said Papiah. She thanked her younger sister for being supportive through challenging times and thanked her boyfriend for his support, motivation, and positivity saying that he encouraged her not to give up on her goals and provided a voice of reason and a source of calm and growth.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan

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Electronic Engineer Investigates 6G Wireless Technologies

Electronic Engineer Investigates 6G Wireless Technologies
Dr Bhekisizwe Mthethwa with (from left) his supervisor, Professor Hongjun Xu; mother, Ms Thandiwe Mthethwa; and brother, Mr Mzingaye Mthethwa.

Having spent endless late nights coding and running Python-based Monte-Carlo simulations, training artificial intelligence (AI)-based neural networks, deriving mathematical models, and performing nonlinear mathematical optimisation, it is no wonder that Dr Bhekisizwe Mthethwa describes graduating with a PhD as ‘a reward for conquering adversity and proof that I have a high adversity quotient (AQ).’

A myriad of setbacks, both financial and academic, did not deter him from achieving his goal. ‘After 10 manuscript rejections from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE)  international  journals I felt completely demoralised and at some point, felt like quitting,’ he recalled, ‘but with the support of friends, family and colleagues, I persevered and eventually managed to publish two IEEE journal papers (international journals), one South African Institute of Electrical Engineers (SAIEE) paper (local journal) and a conference paper.’

With 13 years’ experience in the field and as a registered professional engineer with the Engineering Council of South Africa, Mthethwa is no stranger to hard work and being rewarded for his efforts. During his undergraduate Engineering degree, he earned 28 Certificates of Merit, 41 distinctions out of 55 courses, six Dean’s Commendations, and won the Best Electronic Engineering Student prize for second, third and fourth year.

He went on to graduate with his Master’s in Electronic Engineering summa cum laude and published two international journal papers under the supervision of Professor Hongjun Xu, an expert in wireless communication physical layer multiple-input-and-multiple-output (MIMO) channel coding, wireless MIMO receiver error rate statistical analysis, and wireless MIMO detection scheme design.

For his PhD he continued his research on wireless communication under Xu’s supervision, but with an emphasis on 6G and beyond technologies. This gave birth to the idea to apply AI to solve the 6G-related challenges of designing wireless systems with ultra-low latency, very fast data rates and ultra-high link reliability.

Choosing UKZN to pursue his PhD was an obvious choice for Mthethwa. ‘The Electronic Engineering staff members’ expertise in wireless communication research for 5G and beyond technologies at the Physical Layer of the OSI model attracted me.’

His motivation lay firstly in the need to learn how to apply AI to solve real-world problems. ‘I wanted to be a part of a global team solving 6G and beyond related wireless technology challenges since 6G and beyond technologies will enable cellular communication towers to be able to communicate with passenger cell phones in bullet trains travelling at speeds of up to 1000 km/hr without compromising link reliability.

‘Secondly, 6G and beyond technologies will allow medical surgeons to perform (over an ultra-low latency, ultra-high reliability and fast wireless connection) remote operations by controlling robotic surgeons that perform certain lifesaving surgeries on patients in rural hospitals.

‘Lastly 6G and beyond will support hologram teleportation over wireless wide area networks (WAN), which have endless uses,’ he said.

Mthethwa said his studies will have a positive effect on society in that the reduction or minimisation of the complexity of wireless receiver detection will directly reduce the electrical energy usage of the wireless receiver.

‘This will have a direct impact on the Telco operator base station carbon footprint,’ he said. ‘These base stations consume a lot of electrical energy as they serve many wireless users transmitting and receiving data packets to and from the Telco operator base stations. Lowering the energy consumption of the Telco operator base stations has a direct impact in reducing the carbon footprint as Eskom’s electrical energy demand will drop and less coal will be burnt.’

Mthethwa is currently an ad hoc lecturer in the Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering Department at UKZN, lecturing Electronic Design to third- and fourth-year students.

He also runs a consulting business where he designs and builds software applications, AI-based biometric models, statistical models and Blockchain Ethereum-based non-fungible token ecosystems.

One of his current aspirations is to join UKZN as a lecturer so that he can bring his industrial experience to lectures and enrich undergraduates’ learning experience.

Words: Swastika Maney

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan

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Water Engineer Offers Constructive Solutions for Bulk Water Supply

Water Engineer Offers Constructive Solutions for Bulk Water Supply
Top performing Bachelor of Science in Engineering graduate, Mr Bukani Ndebele.

To score 94% for one’s final-year Civil Engineering dissertation is no mean feat! Yet this is the rabbit that Mr Bukani Ndebele managed to pull out of the hat.

The high achiever has now graduated with his Bachelor of Science in Engineering. Moreover, Ndebele won first prize at the annual South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) National IP Showdown event, impressing the judges with his innovation, uniqueness and presentation skills. He is continuing with master’s studies at UKZN.

Hailing from Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, Ndebele expressed some unique views on why he chose to study at UKZN. Not only did the rich food and culture of Durban attract him, but the city also ‘exposed me to characters that comedian Trevor Noah always spoke about in his shows!’

He was drawn to Civil Engineering in particular because of its mathematical foundation. ‘I have always loved and still love mathematics to the moon and back,’ he said.

Sports obsessed, he initially dreamt of using his mathematical and engineering skills to design a sports stadium. As his degree progressed, however, he learnt about the fascinating discipline of water engineering, which caught his attention.

For his final-year design project Ndebele worked on a design for a bulk water supply pipeline for the Umkomaas area. ‘Projected water demand in the area was very high and new water supply infrastructure was required,’ he explained. The area required water to be pumped from a river to a raw water reservoir and Ndebele was responsible for designing the pipe that carried the water between the two structures.

‘I greatly enjoyed the process of figuring out not only the calculations but the social and political ways of designing as a civil engineer,’ he said. ‘My design stood out as I was the only one who decided to use two mains instead of one, which would cut costs by up to 10%.’

The design tied into his final-year dissertation topic, which focused on biofilm control in water supply pipes. This research aimed to improve water quality by reducing bacteria in bulk pipelines and increase energy efficiency - ‘which is very important as the majority of South Africa has a passionate relationship with Eskom!’ he quipped.

Ndebele noted that besides technical ability, soft skills are equally important for a competent engineer, including good communication skills and problem-solving.

He said his degree was not all plain sailing. ‘My lows were the failures that did come from a lot of tests, especially in Engineering, which required emotional discipline to overcome. Registration periods were also always super stressful, but staff members such as Professor Muthukrishnavellaisamy Kumarasamy were a fantastic help.’

The highlights were receiving three Dean’s Commendations, winning the SAICE IP Showdown Competition and ‘of course being a top performer for one of the toughest modules in Civil Engineering history at UKZN and nationwide!’

Ndebele offered a number of tips to fellow students: ‘Pray about your struggles and appreciate all your small achievements. Be assertive - ask seniors and annoy lecturers for information. You have made it this far - don’t stop, you’re a champion and always will be. Do what you love and know why you came to university. And choose a friend group that aligns with your goals.’

He thanked his parents Mr Moffat and Mrs Sitshengisiwe Ndebele for providing a solid support foundation, his siblings Mr Bulelani and Ms Bumnene Ndebele for their emotional and financial contributions, and Ms Tivana Moonsamy and Ms Samista Jugwanth for their academic encouragement.

In his limited spare time, Ndebele loves to play soccer, jam on his bass guitar, sharpen his mind with Sudoku and relax with a good stand-up comedy.

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan

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