Congratulations to the five students who won NITheCS-sponsored prizes at the 69th Annual Conference of the South African Institute of Physics (SAIP). The event took place at the University of Zululand from 3-7 July 2023.

Jean Du Plessis (UCT) was awarded the prize for best oral presentation, while Anele Ncube (UJ), Pedro Ornelas (Wits) and Chani Van Niekerk (UJ) were runners-up in the oral presentation category. Neelan Gouden (Wits) received the prize for best poster.

We wish them all the best in their future studies and careers.

Reactions from the winners

Jean du Plessis

Jean du Plessis

Jean du Plessis, University of Cape Town, pursuing a Masters in the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics:

‘My research investigates the effects a small system size can have on quantum field theory, with a specific interest in the running of the coupling with respect to system size. This has implications for apparent quark gluon plasma formation signatures seen in proton-proton and proton-nucleus collisions,’ he says.

Winning the Best Oral Presentation at the SAIP Conference, especially one sponsored by NITheCS who has supported me in my journey before, has certainly been a milestone in my academic journey. After securing the best poster award last year, this win further bolsters my confidence in my research and science communication skills. I am also very thankful to my supervisors, Prof Will Horowitz and Prof Jon Shock, without whom this would not have happened. The financial support from the SA-CERN collaboration also enabled me to attend the conference.’

Pedro Dinis Ornelas

Pedro Dinis Ornelas

Pedro Dinis Ornelas, University of the Witwatersrand, pursuing a Masters in classical and quantum optics, specifically focusing on local and non-local optical topologies:

‘I thank SAIP and NITheCS for awarding me this prize. As an experimentalist it is an incredible honour to receive such an award. I hope that if anything, my participation in the theory and computational track inspires more young physicists to collaborate with researchers outside of their field and share the skills they have to offer. I would also like especially to thank my co-authors on the paper I presented – Dr Isaac Nape, Prof Robert De Mello Koch and my supervisor Prof Andrew Forbes – without whom this work would not be possible.’


Chani Stella van Niekerk

Chani van Niekerk

Chani van Niekerk, University of Johannesburg, direction of study: Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics:

‘I am tremendously pleased to be selected to receive this award from NITheCS. There were many talented individuals at the conference and I feel privileged to have been among them, let alone win a prize. This prize has helped me feel motivated to continue to strive to do the best I can and continually improve my skills.’


Anele Ncube

Anele Ncube

Anele Ncube, University of Johannesburg (first year PhD in Physics):

‘SAIP 2023 has been the highlight of my year so far because of the enriching experience of interacting with the broader physics community. Listening to the various talks throughout the conference, it was exciting to witness the thrill carried by all in communicating their work,’ he says.

‘My research is on the use of machine learning within gravitational physics and Beyond the Standard Model phenomenology (BSM). In the former, I apply neural networks to solve the equations of black hole perturbation theory (I presented a talk focused on the solving of the Teukolsky equation pertaining to rotating black holes). My focus is on constructing neural networks that achieve the task of identifying signals of smuon pair production, a BSM process hidden within more dominant Standard Model processes. The broader context of this work is the search for signals of the Minimally Supersymmetric Standard Model in LHC experiments.’

On winning a prize he comments: ‘I am very thrilled and grateful for this acknowledgement. As that was my first oral presentation at SAIP, it was quite a daunting experience but also an exciting challenge. Having been bestowed this prize, I feel quite encouraged to use every opportunity like SAIP for participating in the sharing of knowledge, fermenting ideas, and constructive discussion.’

 Neelan Gounden, University of Witwatersrand (Structured Light Lab), pursuing an MSc in Quantum Photonics:
‘I feel extremely grateful to have been awarded the best poster in the theoretical and computational physics track. Thank you to the organisers of SAIP 2023 for the opportunity to present my research to physicists all over the country. I also thank NITheCS for the award and the Structured Light Lab for the amazing support throughout my MSc.’