Written by Sally Frost

It is not every day that the world’s leading physicists come to Durban, but such was the case recently when UKZN hosted the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) leg of the 183rd Nobel Symposium in Physics Public Outreach programme.

Under the auspices of the Nobel Foundation, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study, it was the first time that this prestigious Nobel Symposium has come to Africa.

Two township schools in Durban, Phembisizwe High School in Ntuzuma and Mayville Secondary School benefitted from in-person visits from Professors Erik Aurell (Sweden), Mogens Hogh Jensen (Denmark), Armita Nourmohammad (USA), Luca Gammaitoni (Italy) and Angelo Vulpiani (Italy).

The professors spoke of their personal journeys as scientists and their areas of expertise.

On hand to welcome Aurell and Gammaitoni to Phembisizwe High School was Mr Kwanele Mthembu who introduced his guests to the 40 Grade 10 and 11 learners who were eagerly awaiting their arrival. While Gammaitonni shared the secrets of physics and the universe using a capful of Durban beach sand to illustrate his message, Aurell tackled the elusive nature of quantum physics. Learners were kept on their toes but responded with ‘interesting and challenging questions,’ said Aurell. The session concluded with a lively science show given by STEC@UKZN Science Centre interns, Mr Samkele Njiva and Mr Thembelani Khumalo.

At Mayville Secondary school, Jensen, Vulpiani and Nourmohammad shared their own experiences as physicists in the world of Science. UKZN’s famous “Dr T” (Dr Tanja Reinhardt, Co-ordinator of UKZN’s Science Centre), pulled out all the stops for her Science Show, exciting both the learners and the visiting researchers! This visit was conducted in partnership with the Umkhumbane Schools project represented by Ms Precious Ngcobo and Mr Siphila Mtshali.

‘This was such a wonderful event that was fun, informative, and inspiring for our learners,’ said Umkhumbane Schools project Director, Ms Martha Bishai. ‘Thank you for making this opportunity for learning and exposure possible.

‘It was truly an awesome experience for myself and my team at UKZN,’ said Reinhardt. ‘Having the opportunity to meet and talk to world class scientists will hopefully inspire these learners to study for a career in Science once they finish school.’

‘This visit was illuminating in all kinds of respects,’ said Gammaitoni. ‘It was a real pleasure to share our knowledge and interact with these learners, whose circumstances mean that studying is often a luxury.’

This article was first published on UKZNDABA online on 10 November 2022.