Reviving a Forgotten Dream
Optical systems analyst Mr Derek Griffith (52) graduated with his Masters in Physics cum laude after registering to undertake his studies under the GR7b University rule, which allows students with a certain level of competence to pursue a postgraduate degree without the requisite qualifying degree.
Griffith, who obtained a BSc in Physics and Computer Science at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 1985, focused his masters on the study of the theory and measurement of light scattering from material surfaces.
He paid particular attention to the measurement of weak scatter from the optical surfaces of precision imaging instruments such as space telescopes and ultraviolet lithography systems. His thesis has earned him a cum laude honour, and has also resulted in the publication of a paper from his research in a recognised international journal.
Griffith has worked almost his entire career at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), where he was assigned to the Optical Sciences Division of what was originally the National Physical Research Laboratory. At the time, there were no tertiary institutes providing training for optical designers, meaning that Griffith had to learn the skill on the job. As an optical systems analyst in the Optronic Sensor Systems competency area of the Defence, Peace, Safety and Security operating unit, Griffith’s work involves precision imaging systems for space and other applications, making it necessary to investigate the negative effects of scattered straylight in such systems.
The decision to enter this line of work was informed by Griffith’s passion for optics, which arose from his interest in amateur astronomy as a schoolboy, when he owned a small telescope and became interested in the mechanics of the device.
According to Griffith, there is a strong relationship between the roughness and cleanliness of a surface and the amount of diffuse light that scatters from the surface. Griffith’s work involved investigating techniques for predicting light scatter from measurements of surface roughness, as well as possible improvements to instruments that are used to measure weak scatter.
The completion of a masters degree late in life has been the revival of a long-abandoned dream.
Obtaining his Master’s part-time while working was not without its challenges. With the support of those around him, Griffith found himself able to focus on the work at hand.
‘As a senior analyst and researcher, other work responsibilities have often taken precedence, but my supervisor, my wife and others never gave up on me and helped me to revive a dream,’ said Griffith. ’My supervisor, Dr Naven Chetty, oiled all the wheels and moved mountains to make this happen, quite apart from providing excellent technical guidance.’
‘My long-time colleague, favourite boss and friend from the start of my career at the CSIR, Dr Dirk Bezuidenhout has always believed I could do this, even when I did not,’ said Griffith, emphasising the importance of support from his workplace.
When asked what he would say to others contemplating a postgraduate degree later on in life, Griffith said he would encourage them to pursue it.
Now that he has completed his masters with accolades, Griffith says he hopes to revive another dream, that of completing his PhD!