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Tribute given at the Memorial Service for Prof Edmund Zingu held on 25 April 2013 at the University of the Western Cape May 18, 2013

Posted by International.Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Condensed Matter and Materials Physics (CMMP), History, Policy and Education (HPE) , 1 comment so far Bookmark and Share

by Prof Patricia Whitelock

I have been asked by Simon Connell, the current President of SAIP to pay tribute to Edmund on behalf of SAIP, but I have also been asked by Ted Williams, the director of the South African Astronomical Observatory to speak on behalf of SAAO. That is important for me as I first met Edmund Zingu in 1995 at the 175th anniversary of the observatory and I came to know him as a personal friend as well as a valued colleague. He was then head of physics at UWC and I had the pleasure of showing him around and was impressed and intrigued by his interest and perceptive questions.  It was the start of a relationship between SAAO and UWC that has gradually strengthened over the years and which will ultimately allow the two organizations to do great things in astrophysics.

You will have your personal memories of Edmund but he was best known to the broader community through his service with SAIP and that is what I want to talk about. As you have already heard Edmund served on the Council of the SAIP for 8 years from 1999 to 2006, as VP from two years while I was President then as President from 2003 to 2004. It would not be an exaggeration to say that when Edmund joined the Council, physics in SA was in crisis. The numbers of undergraduate students enrolling had been dropping for several years, the image of physics among the public and decision makers was poor, finance for physics projects was very limited and the SAIP itself, particularly its leadership, was not representative of the community of physicists in SA,  and people rightly wanted to know what SAIP was going to do.

By the time Edmund left the SAIP council, physics in SA was in a very different place. That was of course due to the combined efforts of a number people, but Edmund was without question was one of the most important. In 2001 Council set up a transformation committee with a very broad mandate to look at all aspects of the SAIP. Edmund and I both served on that committee. The initial driving force for transformation came from Nithaya Chetty, but Edmund, who chaired the committee while he was VP, was absolutely crucial in keeping the debate focused and most importantly keeping us all talking to each other.

These years were particularly exciting as we grappled with the problems in physics at the same time as attempting to restructure the SAIP to play a more relevant role in SA society. My entire experience of working with Edmund was a positive one.  He was someone you could test ideas on and who would tell you very gently and very sympathetically when and why you had got it wrong.  I don’t know if we could have done what we did without him, but I very much doubt it. What I am certain of is that it would have been more difficult and there would have been many more casualties and more blood on the walls. I would like to quote from Jaynie Padayachee, who was secretary of the SAIP during my and Edmund’s presidency and who was also secretary of the transformation committee: “The one thing about Edmund that will always stay with me, is that he personified diplomacy. It was really inspirational (in this world of too many words and opinions) knowing someone who took the time to think about what he was going to say before he said it. “

During my term as President I quickly came to rely on Edmund’s judgment and his support above anything and anyone else.  I suspect that there are many others who must have had similar experiences. He was never heavy handed or unpleasantly forceful, when things were said that he did not agree with he would gently point out that not everyone had the same experience and that there were other ways of looking at issues. It was quiet, it was gentle, it was undemonstrative and it dramatically effective. I quote from Jappie Engelbrecht, who is the treasurer of SAIP, as he was when Edmund and I were President: Japie after reading Simon Connell’s words about Edmund responded “I have nothing to add except my sadness at the passing of a truly great South African, whose impact on my own life enabled me to transform to our new democracy.”His words apply to many of us who worked with Edmund.

Those transformation activities resulted in a revised constitution and by-laws for the SAIP, more involvement of the specialist groups in council, a president who was directly elected by the membership, and a new mindset and symbolism of a new logo to prove it. That of course took several more years.

At roughly the same time that we started the transformation process, in fact really as part of the same initiative we established the process that culminated in an international panel review and the production of a document: “Shaping the future of physics in South Africa”.  This process was lead by Edmund during his presidency and must have taken up a huge amount of his personal time. This led to a new strategy for physics, and among other things establishment of the National Institute of Theoretical Physics (NITheP) and to the increased financial support from government that enabled SAIP to appoint an Executive Officer – which has been so important in allowing SAIP to do things more professionally.

One of the international participants in the shaping the future process, was Jim Gates, who as many of you know is now on USA President’s scientific advisory panel. The following words were written by Jim Gates and express Edmund’s role better than I can:

I am certain now that the Shaping Report has served exceedingly well as a national strategy and planning document for the South African physics community in a manner that none of its authors had foreseen in terms of its scope, duration or effectiveness. Dr. Zingu’s management of the entire Shaping process was a marvelous testament of his dedicated to the health of the physics field in South Africa.   His skills as a manager of personnel were on direct display, from my perspective, in the assembly of the International panel. He chose persons from S.A., from Europe, and the U.S.A. as a reflection of his understanding of the international and global nature of the interaction required for physics to thrive in S.A. in the new millennium. He also saw the International Panel was assembled in such a way as to be a final executive part of the process that lived up to his high expectation and vision.

The Shaping Report is among the greatest of tributes to Dr. Zingu as it continues almost a decade latter to have a substantial impact on thinking about South African physics. The report challenged all of the stake-holding communities to plan on multiple levels. “

He goes on to describe his personal gratitude to Edmund as a mentor for giving him the skills that he has particularly needed and which prepared him for his role as advisor to President Barack Obama

Since leaving the SAIP Council Edmund has continued to serve the community. In particular he has again played the leadership role in the Review of Physics Teaching, which is currently underway – the next big hurdle in the success of physics in SA, or indeed globally. I have no direct experience of his work with this, but Simon Connell tells me that he handled the project magnificently. In fact has been so well constructed by Edmund that neither SAIP nor CHE have any concern about its completion.

There can be no doubt that Physics and South Africa are better off because Edmund Zingu was who he was, when he was. We,as physicists and as friends of Edmund, have every reason to thank his family and to join them in celebration of a life extraordinarily well lived in the service of our community.

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In Memoriam: Edmund C. Zingu April 26, 2013

Posted by International.Chair in : Condensed Matter and Materials Physics (CMMP), History, Policy and Education (HPE), Physics Education Research (PER), Technology Transfer, Business Development and Entrepreneurism (TBE) , 2comments Bookmark and Share

Professor Edmund Zingu served on the South African Institute of Physics (SAIP) Council from 1999 to 2006, and was President of the SAIP from 2003 to 2004.  He was in fact the first black President in the history of the SAIP[1].

He played crucial leadership roles in many projects, particularly in physics related development issues.  He was Vice President of the IUPAP, and Chair of the C13 Commission on Physics for Development.  He was primarily responsible for bringing to South Africa the iconic ‘Physics for Sustainable Development’ conference in 2005[2] as a part of the International Year of Physics.  This conference cast a distinct spotlight on physics as an instrument for development in Africa.

We would like to specifically mention his tremendous contribution to two extremely important projects of the Institute.  The first was the highly successful Shaping the Future of Physics, where he contributed to the design of the project and also served as chair of the Management and Policy Committee that oversaw the international review in 2003.

The Shaping the Future of Physics in South Africa report was written by a body designated as the ‘International Panel’ or IP.  The IP was composed of M. A. Hellberg (convenor), M. Ducloy, K. Bharuth-Ram, K. Evans-Lutterodt, I. Gledhill, G. X. Tessema, A.W. Wolfendale, and S. J Gates.  The report has served exceedingly well as a national strategy and planning document for the South African physics community in a manner that none of its authors had foreseen in terms of its scope, duration or effectiveness.

Dr. Zingu’s management of the entire Shaping process was a marvelous testament of his dedication to the health of the physics field in South Africa.  His skills as a manager of personnel were on direct display in the assembly of the IP.  He advocated for selection of representatives from South Africa (Bharuth-Ram, Gledhill, and Hellberg), from Europe (Ducloy, and Wolfendale), and the USA (Evans-Lutterodt, Gates, and Tessema) as a reflection of his understanding of the global nature of the interactions required for physics to thrive in South Africa in the new millennium.  He also saw to it that the IP was assembled in such a way as to be a final executive part of the process that lived up to his high expectation and vision.

The Shaping Report is among the greatest of tributes to Dr. Zingu as it continues almost a decade later to have a substantial impact on thinking about South African physics.  The report challenged all of the stake-holding communities to plan on multiple levels.  Projects like the projects like the SAIP Executive Office, National Institute for Theoretical Physics (NiTheP), South African National Research Network (SANReN), SA-CERN, and SKA-Africa have become a reality.  The report called also for the possibility of other ‘flagship’ projects such as a South African synchrotron, to drive the large scale development of the field, and there has been significant encouraging progress here.  At the more granular level there was a call for transformation so that the field would be open to all citizens of the country.  Physics in South Africa has grown significantly since then, largely because of the implementation of many of the recommendations from the Review.  Also during this time Dr. Zingu authored the very influential article, Promoting Physics and Development in Africa, which appeared in Physics Today[3].

For one of us (Gates), the Shaping Report was preparation for service as a policy advisor for both the Governor of Maryland (via my role on the Maryland State Board of Education) and for President Barack Obama (via my role on the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science & Technology – PCAST).  These accomplishments are due in part to Edmund’s confidence in me and his abilities as a mentor.  I owe this great South African an enormous debt of gratitude for how he challenged me to grow professionally.

The second project was the Review of Undergraduate Physics Education.  Once again he contributed to the design of the Review and chaired the Management and Policy Committee.  He led the development of the South Africa Draft Benchmark Statement for Physics Training, and guided the Review process, including the partnership with the Council for Higher Education.  The Review of Physics Training is well advanced but still in progress.

Professor Zingu began his physics career at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).  He was a materials physicist, and with his collaborators at Cornell University invented a new method to study atomic diffusion by transmission electron microscopy[4].  Later he studied diffusion phase transitions in thin films due to induced thermal stress[5].  He had a period of employment at Turfloop, QwaQwa Campus, then as Head of the Physics Department and later Dean of Basic Sciences (1990-1993) at MEDUNSA.  He later returned to UWC and served as Head of the Physics Department (1994-1998), and finally Vice Rector of Mangosuthu University of Technology in Umlazi, Durban until the time of his retirement.

Edmund was a pioneer for physics in post-apartheid South Africa, a visionary, a tireless campaigner for strengthening the discipline of physics* and, above all, a true gentleman.  His leadership and contributions were characterized by sensitivity, perceptiveness, vision, ethics, wisdom, global standards and great industry.  He will be sorely missed.

Simon Connell
President, South African Institute of Physics (2012-2014)

Nithaya Chetty
President, South African Institute of Physics (2007-2009)

S. James Gates, Jr.
President, National Society of Black Physicists (1996-1998)

More comments from Dr. Zingu’s friends and colleagues

Professor Zingu was a dear friend and professional colleague over the past ten years.  He was extremely helpful during the deliberations of the 2004 Review of iThemba LABS that I chaired for the National Research Foundation.  During that time, Professor Zingu was President of the South African Institute of Physics.  In another effort, he was one of the main drivers in working with Professor Alfred Msezane of Clark Atlanta University and a number of us at the African Laser Centre to organize the 1st US-Africa Advanced Studies Institute on Photon Interactions with Atoms and Molecules.  That institute convened in Durban during November 2005, just after the World Conference on Physics and Sustainable Development, which was part of the United Nation’s International Year of Physics.  Professor Zingu leaves a tremendous legacy for all African and other peoples to emulate.  We will miss his kind demeanor and tremendous insights into the future.
Sekazi K. Mtingwa

I met Prof. Edmund Zingu nearly 20-years ago in November 1995 at the University of the Western Cape, in Cape Town, where he was Chair of the Physics Department. Edmund invited me on my first travel to South Africa for nearly two-weeks to  lecture on Ultrafast Optical Phenomena at several institutions — U. of Port Elizabeth, the National Accelerator Centre, U. of Cape Town, U. of Witwatersrand, U. of the Western Cape and the Foundation for Research Development (analog of the US National Science Foundation). This was the first and only time that I spent time away from my family during Thanksgiving, and Edmund provided a warm and inviting environment for my visit. I spent several days with Edmund’s wonderful family and learned a great deal about South Africa and its people. Arriving not long after the release of Nelson Mandela and the official end of Apartheid, Edmund with his gentle, soft-spoken and brilliant nature alleviated my natural apprehension of visiting South Africa at that time. I had a truly wonderful visit and scientific exchange orchestrated by Prof. Edmund Zingu and I am truly saddened by the loss of this extraordinary individual — my deepest condolences go out to his family.
Anthony M. Johnson

Two weeks ago, at a diaspora gathering for STEM in Africa, the challenge that African scientists face on the continent was discussed. The critical question was “How can academics in Africa get the attention of the leaders?”  The idea of international advisory panels modeled after the 2004 Shaping panel was received with much enthusiasm. The composition of the panel, the charge to the panel, and the implementation was such a testimony of the high quality of the leadership of SAIP under Edmond Zingu. May he rest in peace.
Tessema G.X.

To this excellent tribute, I would like to add my personal sadness at the passing of a truly great South African, whose impact on my own life enabled me to transform to our new democracy.
Japie Engelbrecht


[1] Physics Today, Vol 54 (9) Sept 2001, p 27, http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.1420507

[2] Physics World, October 2005, pp 12-13, http://physicsworld.com/cws/archive/print/18/10

[3] Physics Today, Vol 57 (1) Jan 2004, p 37, http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.1650068

[4] Chen, S. H., L. R. Zheng, J. C. Barbour, E. C. Zingu, L. S. Hung, C. B. Carter, and J. W. Mayer. “Lateral-diffusion couples studied by transmission electron microscopy.” Materials Letters 2, no. 6 (1984): 469-476. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0167-577X(84)90075-2

Zingu, E. C., J. W. Mayer, C. Comrie, and R. Pretorius. “Mobility of Pd and Si in Pd2Si.” Physical Review B 30, no. 10 (1984): 5916. http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevB.30.5916

[5] Zingu, E. C., and B. T. Mofokeng. “Diffusional Phase Transformation under Induced Thermal Stress.” In MRS Proceedings, vol. 230, no. 1. Cambridge University Press, 1991. http://dx.doi.org/10.1557/PROC-230-145

Zingu, E. C., and B. T. Mofokeng. “Stress Relaxation During Diffusional Phase Transformation Under Induced Thermal Stress.” In Materials Research Society Symposium Proceedings, vol. 308, pp. 85-85. Materials Research Society, 1994. http://dx.doi.org/10.1557/PROC-308-85

Diale, M., C. Challens, and E. C. Zingu. “Cobalt self‐diffusion during cobalt silicide growth.” Applied Physics Letters, vol. 62, no. 9 (1993): pp 943-945. http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.108527

[6] P. Whitelock,  Tribute given at the Memorial Service for Prof Edmund Zingu held on 25 April 2013 at the University of the Western Cape

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Dr. Kartik Sheth, ALMA, and SKA March 19, 2013

Posted by admin in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Cosmology, Gravitation, and Relativity (CGR) , add a comment Bookmark and Share

by JC Holbrook

National Society of Black Physicists members Eric Wilcots and Kartik Sheth were part of a new initiative to foster radio astronomy collaborations with South African astronomers and students. Last week marked the official inauguration of ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array, in the high altitude Atacama desert of Chile, South America. I was able to sit down with Dr. Sheth to discuss the broader issue of radio astronomy and South Africa.

“I think this celebration was the culmination of thirty years worth of work from a lot of different people. The inauguration of the array was a chance for us to celebrate how much hard work has gone into it.” Dr. Sheth said of the inauguration ceremony in Chile. “We started science operations September 30th of 2011. We have been collecting data for over two and a half years, because even with a small ALMA it is still the most powerful [millimeter/submillimeter] telescope in the world.”

Since ALMA is an array of dishes similar to the radio dishes of the Very Large Array in New Mexico, even during construction as each dish was put into place and connected, the astronomers were already using what was available to collect data. Thus, the months of science data collection with ALMA before the official inauguration.

I pointed out, “You were not even there!”

Dr. Sheth laughed, “Only the dignitaries were invited, so a lot of people from the political arena in the twenty-five plus countries that are part of ALMA. President Piñera inaugurated ALMA…For me it doesn’t mean much… but I’m kinda sad that I’m not there because I really wanted to be there. But I knew that I wasn’t going to be invited, so coming here [to South Africa] really was driven by the NASSP deadline for Master’s proposals.” NASSP is the National Astrophysics and Space Sciences Programme in South Africa. In 2010, I began writing a book about NASSP. The program is a dramatic success story about educating underrepresented groups in astrophysics and space sciences. NASSP include one honor year and a two year masters of science degree. Nearly all NASSP students are funded by the program.

Dr. Sheth explained, “The idea is to foster bridges between the faculty here that are taking on students who eventually want to work with MeerKat and SKA. But MeerKAT and SKA are not built, yet. So, what we would really like the faculty to do is to think about including radio data from existing telescopes and NRAO operates four of them.”

The SKA is currently under construction, yet the South African astronomy students need to learn everything about radio astronomy and the analysis of radio data. Dr. Sheth along with other American radio astronomers is here to encourage South African astronomers and their students the opportunity to learn by working with the existing facilities and their archival data. The four facilities are ALMA, the Robert C. Byrd Greenbank telescope a single dish in West Virginia, the Jansky Very Large Array (JVLA or EVLA) which is the enhanced VLA in New Mexico, and the Very Large Baseline Array (VLBA) which is spread across the Northern Hemisphere. Thus, the visit before the NASSP deadline for submitting Masters of Science thesis proposals. Dr. Sheth hopes that a few NASSP students will propose radio astronomy projects including using NRAO facilities for their Masters work.

According to Dr. Sheth the JVLA is the Northern Hemisphere equivalent of what MeerKat will be. MeerKat is the precursor to the SKA, the Square Kilometer Array.  It is a new state of the art radio observatory currently being built in South Africa. The SKA array itself will consist of 3000 dishes spread across nine African countries: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Madagascar, Mauritius, Zambia, Ghana, and Kenya. The SKA Africa headquarters are in Cape Town, South Africa, and they will be coordinating all of the African construction. A question I thought would be uppermost in the minds of South Africans was: Will ALMA be competition for SKA?

His response, “No, not at all. ALMA operates at higher frequencies than what the SKA will operate at. They are not looking at the same part of the electromagnetic spectrum but they will be looking at the same type of objects. EVLA is a mini version of SKA. With the SKA, it will be observing thermal emission and synchrotron emission from sources…” In an email he added, “We are looking at electrons energy as they cool around star forming regions or zip around magnetic fields. So you can get a real idea of the magnetic field that pervades the Milky Way and with the SKA across cosmic time. ALMA cannot really look at atomic gas unless its at very high red shift (i.e. the lines are red shifted into the regime that ALMA can observe) and only using atomic gas tracers like ionized carbon, nitrogen, or oxygen. ALMA cannot look at the atomic hydrogen gas which is emitting in the wavelengths that MeerKat and SKA will work at. So SKA & Meerkat are looking at the atomic gas from which molecular gas forms. And the molecular gas is what ALMA looks at which from stars form. And the stars are what HST and JWST look at. So it is a nice transition.  Together these are giving you the full picture of what the universe looks like. Additionally there is a lot about magnetic fields and transient phenomena — these are also MeerKat and SKA’s core strengths. For instance, these will be excellent instruments for looking at the timing of pulsars.”

Trying to put it altogether I asked, “So, anything that is hot and has electrons moving around will be able to be studied by SKA?”

Kartik Sheth clarified, “No, I wouldn’t call it ‘hot’. The atomic gas is quite cold as well. It is hotter than the molecular gas but not hot compared to stars.”

As a student of astronomy, I had always had a fascination with the connection between wavelengths of light or color, physical properties, chemistry, and celestial bodies. Planetary nebulae, which are mentioned in my last Vector blog, in visible light appear greenish in color. The color is the result of a specific atomic transition in the oxygen atom that occurs under very low density conditions. First the oxygen has to be ionized twice, i.e. it has to have lost two electrons, then it is through collisions that the transitions producing the characteristic green lines emit. A rule-of-thumb temperature for planetary nebulae is 10,000 degrees Kelvin. Thus, if there is a celestial body that appears ‘green’ in visible light you can conclude that it might include oxygen especially if it is a nebula which tends to have low density and it should be around 10,000 degrees Kelvin. Hydrogen is also found in planetary nebulae and the strongest transition line, known as H-alpha, occurs when its electron goes from an excited state to a less excited state releasing energy in the form of red light.

In the case of ALMA and SKA, they are probing two different sections of the electromagnetic spectrum similar to studying green light or red light. In the fullness of time, SKA will cover the same wavelengths and types of celestial bodies as the EVLA but focused on the Southern sky rather than the Northern, but also be more sensitive revealing more physical details. ALMA will add to our understanding of the same region of the sky but is studying different physical properties of celestial bodies. Both will add to our understanding of the Milky Way and the Universe.

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NSBP members visit South Africa to strengthen ties March 15, 2013

Posted by admin in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Cosmology, Gravitation, and Relativity (CGR), History, Policy and Education (HPE), Technology Transfer, Business Development and Entrepreneurism (TBE) , add a comment Bookmark and Share

NSBP members Kartik Sheth and Eric Wilcots along with National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) astronomer Scott Ransom have been in South Africa to cement linkages for a NRAO’s faculty bridge program. NSBP, the South African Institute of Physics (SAIP), NRAO and others are working together on the science dimension of the US-South Africa Bilateral Strategic Dialogue.

The visit is intended to foster partnerships in multi-wavelength astronomy research.  Last week they had meetings with astronomers and cosmologists at University of Cape Town, University of Western Cape, SAAO, the SKA Africa Project Office and the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS).  This week they will also meet with high energy astrophysicists at the Potchefstroom campus of North-West University, University of Johannesburg, and University of Witswatersrand, as well as astronomers at the North-West University campus in Mafikeng, and the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO).

As South Africa builds a second NASSP site, teaching and research partnerships with NRAO will be beneficial on both sides of the Atlantic. NRAO currently operates four premier radio astronomy observatories: ALMA, JVLA, GBT and the VLBA.  NRAO is likely to also be a partner in helping to train scientists across the continent to be operators and users of the African VLBI Network (AVN). The AVN project consists of converting large, redundant telecommunications dishes across Africa for radio astronomy. The AVN will become part of the global VLBI network.

In addition to major radio astronomy successes, South Africa’s strategic plan for astronomy calls for its institutions to be active in multiple wavelengths including radio, optical, gamma/x-ray, and near IR. South Africa is the host of the Southern Africa Large Telescope (SALT), the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. Wilcots is a member of the SALT board. South Africa is also supporting the Namibian bid to host the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA), the next generation success to the H.E.S.S telescope that has been in Namibia since 2002. Following an exchange at the 2011 NSBP conference, South Africa and the LIGO Collaboration have begun exploring opportunities in gravitational wave astronomy. Already LIGO and SAIP have convened a faculty workshop and a student summer school, both in Pretoria.

In a separate but simultaneous visit, Jim Gates participated in South Africa’s National Science Festival (SciFest), giving talks at several venues around the country on science policy and supersymmetry.  ScieFest was established in 1996 to promote the public awareness, understanding and appreciation of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation. The main event in Grahamstown, held in March every year, attracts 72,000 visitors from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Several government departments, listed companies, museums, NGOs, research facilities, science centers, science councils, universities, as well as small, medium and micro enterprises, both from South Africa and abroad contribute to the success of the event.

Gates was on the same program as South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom.  Each discussed science and innovation policy and gave their perspectives on aligning science with national priorities. Additionally Gates participated in three formal policy meetings, including one with Simphiwe Duma, CEO of the Technology Innovation Agency, and two more informal policy meetings.  In a lecture at the University of South Africa (UNISA) he and Dr. Rob Adam, former head to South Africa’s National Research Foundation, spoke on the efficacy of policy-formation surrounding STEM fields and the innovation cycle.

In other events around the country Gates met 45 students spanning the 8th through 11th grade levels at the Mae Jemison Science Reading Room in the Mamelodi township.  At Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the University of Johannesburg he gave talks on the strange mathematical objects found in the equations of supersymmetry.

These meetings and exchanges involving NSBP and South African colleagues are all part of the evolution from ideas put into motion by the Nobel Laureate, Abdus Salaam, and the founders of the Edward Bouchet-Abdus Salaam Institute (EBASI). Over a decade ago former NSBP president, Charles McGruder, traveled to South Africa to explore possible linkages between astronomers.  That visit led to Khotso Mokhele’s participation in the 2004 NSBP conference.  At the time he was the head of South Africa’s National Research Foundation. Later NSBP won a grant from the WK Kellogg Foundation to support NSBP’s participation the NASSP program. In the year’s since, NSBP has partnered with SAIP on a number of projects, and the relationship was codified in at MOU signed at the 2011 NSBP conference and witnessed by Minister Naledi Pandor.  The relationships between NSBP, SAIP as well as colleagues across the entire continent continue to evolve and vistas are opening up in the realms of geophysics, biophysics and medical physics, nuclear and particle physics, mathematical and computational physics, as well as physics education at all levels.

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Unfinished Business in Astronomy March 11, 2013

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JC Holbrook

My master’s thesis in astronomy at San Diego State University focused on the electron temperature structure of the ionized gas of planetary nebulae. I focused on two planetary nebulae: NGC 6572 and NGC 6543. I observed using the one meter telescope at Mt. Laguna Observatory with a CCD detector. Planetary nebula are created as low mass stars throw off their atmosphere during their transition to white dwarfs. My observations and analysis of NGC 6572 revealed a knot of high temperature gas well away from but connected to the nebula. I could not explain what the knot was but submitted the paper in 1992 to ApJ with my advisor Theodore Daub. The referee reports insisted that we take spectra of the know. JPL’s Trina Ray took spectra but we still could not identify the hot knot. The project was left behind as I left SDSU for NASA and a doctorate. However, a week ago I looked up images of NGC 6572 and got a big surprise! The Hubble Space Telescope image showed a far bigger nebula than what we could detect twenty years ago! Though it has been several years, looking at the contours I estimate that the hot spot I found, which at that point was at the edge of the nebula, I have marked with a circle in the second image. The structure of NGC 6572 is much more complicated than what I was working with and it is clear that some of the assumptions that went into the temperature would need to be updated to fully determine if the knot was indeed as hot as calculated. Certainly, some eager young astronomy student has already unraveled this bit of unfinished business!

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NSBP members awarded National Medals by President Obama February 3, 2013

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In a White House ceremony Sylvester James Gates and George Robert Carruthers were awarded the National Medal of Science and National Medal of Technology and Innovation, respectively.  These awards are amongst the top honors that US bestows upon scientists and engineers.

Gates is known for his work on supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory.  He is currently the John S. Toll Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park, a University of Maryland Regents Professor and currently serves on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and the Maryland State Board of Education.

Carruthers is an astrophysicist at the Naval Research Lab.  He first gained international recognition for his on ultraviolet observations of the earth’s upper atmosphere and of astronomical phenomena.  But he is perhaps best known for his work with the spectrograph that showed incontrovertible proof that molecular hydrogen exists in the interstellar medium.








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Joint AfAS/NSBP Statement on Cheick Modibo Diarra January 14, 2013

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The African Astronomical Society and the National Society of Black Physicists express their concern for the health and safety of our colleague Dr. Cheick Modibo Diarra. We hope that adequate medical attention will be afforded to him, and that his basic human rights will be respected to the fullest measure.
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What are the top physics and astronomy stories of 2012? December 14, 2012

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Ah, the year that was.  Did the Higgs discovery make it one the best years ever?   Please take a moment to tell us your top 5 stories in physics and astronomy.   Give your top ranked story a score of 5, next one 4, on down to 1.   The results of this Borda voting will be announced before the end of the year.

Open Borda Voting Table

If you need some help remembering all the physics and astronomy you enjoyed this year, here are some top stories from Waves and Packets.

Experiments prove nanoscale metallic conductivity in ferroelectrics
Ultrafast optical imaging of superconductors
Physicists achieve single-photon spectroscopy of a single molecule
1st image of single-molecule charge distribution
Sending messages with neutrinos
Spider silk conducts better than copper
1st observation of coherent quantum phase slip in Josephson junction
Sun’s twin discovered — The perfect SETI target?
Pioneer anomaly explained with no new physics
1st results from BOSS
Gamma-ray outbursts shed new light on pulsars
Elusive Majorana fermions may be lurking in a cold nanowire
Have we observed the Higgs (imposter)? Signal may not be standard model Higgs boson after all
‘Extremely Little Telescope’ discovers unique bodies
Ed Witten explains why quantum mechanics says a black hole should be able to let some things out
Negative frequency photons: The impact of something we thought could not exist has now been detected
Discovery of Higgs-like particle opens new questions
Gravitational waves spotted from white-dwarf pair
New diffraction technique that mixes infrared and X-ray lasers maps chemical bonds
Mathematicians offer unified theory of dark matter, dark energy, altering Einstein field equations
Room temperature superconductivity found in graphite grains
Latest Planck results may resolve question about dark matter
How NSF allocates billions of federal dollars to top universities
Black holes constrain the mass of a photon
Astronomers announce most precise measurement yet of the Hubble constant
Possible cosmological solution to the Pioneer Anomaly
1st ‘black widow’ pulsar found from gamma ray observations
New form of matter, color glass condensate, possibly spotted by CMS
Electrons in solids may reveal intrinsic electron dipole moment
Cosmologists propose new paradigm for understanding early universe
Ultrafast light turns insulator into a conductor

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The First Telescope Has Arrived for the Total Solar Eclipse in Cairns and “Black Sun” November 11, 2012

Posted by admin in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Earth and Planetary Systems Sciences (EPSS) , add a comment Bookmark and Share

by JC Holbrook

Dr. Alphonse Sterling arrived safely in Cairns with telescope, mount, filters, cameras, and a suitcase. His excess baggage fees were unmentionable. The blue case is the body of the telescope. Alphonse is staying about 30 minutes to the west of Cairns in the Trinity Beach area in a very swank three bedroom apartment with ocean views. He will be sharing the apartment with scientific teammembers students Amy Steele and Roderick Gray.

In preparation for the eclipse, Alphonse has to create a ‘flat’ image as part of the calibration of the flaws in the telescope. When doing traditional night observing at an observatory, flats are taken of the dome. That is, before you start observing you put diffuse light onto the dome of the telescope and take a series of images. What is revealed is any specs of dust in the optics and other flaws. Next, the astronomer would go on to observe the celestial bodies and at dawn take another series of flats. When processing the images of the celestial bodies these flats would be used to remove the optical flaws thus flattening the images. This way what you have is just what is found in space not some artifact left by the optics of the telescope.

When doing observations of the Sun, daytime observing, creating a flat is not so simple. Alphonse has experimented with multiple different light sources to determine which is the best for creating a good flat.
What he found is he has to rig something up himself. That meant that we had to go to the hardware store to find the parts he needed!

After a long search we found: exacto knife, white cardboard, LCD flashlight, masking tape, electrical switch, compass. He had his own wire to create an external switch for his new light source. Over the next couple of days he will be putting everything together. I can’t wait to see what the final device will look like!

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Reports from PhysCon November 9, 2012

Posted by admin in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO) , add a comment Bookmark and Share

NSBP members are reporting live from PhysCon. Check back here and follow the #PhysCon hashtag at Twitter for continuous updates.

Professor Mercedes Richards gives plenary talk, “The Incredible Tomography Imaging Technique”.

Tomography is the reconstruction of a multidimensional physical field from its integral projections in different directions.  Tomography can be used in astronomy for systems that are rotating, such as stars, binary systems, extrasolar planets and accretion disks.   Rotation of the system allows astronomers to see multiple angles of the system.  By observing light emissions from accretion disks and taking Doppler shift into account and other relativistic effects, it is possible to derive velocity profiles throughout the disk.   It then possible to reconstruct a velocity space “image” into an actual spatial image of the accretion disk.  Examples of systems include binary stars, and stars near black holes where the black hole is stripping off matter from the star.   Tomography can also be used to  study orbital mechanics.

Since the technique of Doppler tomography was introduced 18 years ago, it has been used to provide indirect images of accretion structures in close binaries which cannot be resolved spatially with the largest telescopes.   The more general technique of tomography has been used successfully in medicine, geophysics, archaeology, and oceanography to construct 3D images from 2D pictures or “slices” through the object collected at many positions around the object.  These slices or projections are represented by the Radon transform.   The 3D image is recovered through a summation process called back projection; and the overall image reconstruction procedure is known as tomography.  In astronomy, the technique can be readily applied to eclipsing binaries and rotating stars, which provide changing views of the system, and the process is called Doppler Tomography because the gas motions detected through Doppler shifts provide an image of the accretion flows in velocity coordinates.

Doppler tomography has been used successfully to produce images of accretion flows in a variety of interacting binaries including the cataclysmic variable stars and x-ray binaries.  It would not have been possible to create these images otherwise since these systems and too distant to be directly imaged.  The major highlights of Doppler tomography have been the discovery of spiral structures in accretion disks, and the comparison of gas stream tomography maps to hydrodynamics models.

Professor Mercedes Richards is in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State University.  Originally from Jamaica, she attended the University of the West Indies where she graduated with special honors in physics.  She attended graduate school in Canada, earning her Ph.D. at the University of Toronto.   She was recently elected president of the Close Binary Stars commission of the International Astronomical Union.   At PSU she founded a 6-week summer research program for high school students.

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