The Deputy Director of NITheCS, Professor Sunil Maharaj, who has been awarded this year’s Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship by the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust (OMT) says: ‘I am deeply touched by the award for my research in gravity and applications to radiating stars in general relativity and modified gravity theories.’

Prof Maharaj continues: ‘It is pleasing to note that the OMT values research in the basic sciences – in this case gravity theories which have a connection to atmospheres of radiating relativistic stars, shadows of black holes and their geometric structure. I am grateful to my research colleagues, postgraduate students and postdoctoral fellows for their support and collaborations over the years. This is an exciting field of research, and we hope that this award will serve as inspiration for young scientists to consider research opportunities in gravity and the basic sciences.’

Prof Francesco Petruccione, Interim Director of NITheCS, congratulated Prof Maharaj on the award, saying: ‘It was excellent news to hear that our Deputy Director has been granted this award. Our very best wishes go to Prof Maharaj and all those with whom he is cooperating and will cooperate on their important work in cosmology and astrophysics.’

Prof Sunil Maharaj is a Senior Professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and serves as Focus Area Co-ordinator in the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence, Mathematical and Statistical Sciences (CoE-MaSS). He held the South African Research Chair in Gravitating Systems funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI – until 2021 the Department of Science and Technology) for the maximum period of 15 years. He has been the Director of the Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit at UKZN since 2005 – a unit as a research centre for general relativity, cosmology and astrophysics.

In the past he served on the councils of the Academy of Science of South Africa, the South Africa Gravity Society and the South African Mathematical Society. He was also on the Board of the NRF. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa and a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa and was recently appointed fellow of the International Association of Mathematical Physics.

Scholars of the highest calibre
The Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship Award is granted to scholars of the highest calibre who are engaged in cutting-edge and internationally significant work with particular application to the advancement of knowledge, teaching, research and development in South Africa and beyond.

For the work done under the Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship Award, Professor Maharaj will collaborate with leading experts in gravity theories and relative astrophysics, including Professor Megan Govender from Durban University of Technology and Professor Aroon Beesham from the Mangosuthu University of Technology, as well as other researchers from South African universities.

Their international partners will include Professors Jefta Sunzu (University of Dodoma) and Eunice Mureithi (University of Dar es Salaam) from Tanzania, as well as Professors Sushant Ghosh (Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi) and Narayan Banerjee (Indian Institute of Science and Education Research, Kolkata) from India.

Prof Maharaj notes: ‘Astronomy and astrophysics have been chosen as lead scientific subjects in South Africa by the government. This project will contribute to fundamental science that will help to cement South Africa’s leading position as a leader in these topics. There are opportunities for young South Africans to pursue a career in this area and work in a scientific project of international importance.’

He adds: ‘NITheCS is well positioned for, and supports, research initiatives and projects in cosmology and astrophysics. It is a national structure which is equipped to support our continuing research in the various universities and research structures in the country as a whole.’