Muzi Sikhonde: New nGAP member

22 October 2019 | Story Muzi Sikhonde. Photo Provided. Read time 3 min.
Muzi Sikhonde
Muzi Sikhonde

I have just joined the Numeracy Centre in the Centre for Higher Education and Development (CHED). Since developing my interest in maths at university, I have become more and more interested in how students learn and develop statistical skills. In my work in the Numeracy Centre I hope to be able to use the experiences that I have had in assisting UCT’s students to become comfortable with numbers and to get excited about the mysteries that they conceal and can unlock.

I was born in Benoni, east of Johannesburg. I spent half the time of my childhood in Johannesburg and the other in uMlazi near Durban, KwaZulu Natal. I finished high school at Velabahleke Secondary School in uMlazi township. Growing up, my family consisted of both my parents, my older sister and younger brother.

During the 90s my family moved around a lot because of the political turmoil in the country, therefore I did my primary schooling in many different schools, hence rapid adaptation was key to my school progress. As a young pupil I showed great aptitude for language and the sciences, especially mathematics and physics. Even when my home life may not have been great, I found order and solace in the art of mathematics like many before me who were fascinated by this wonderful subject.

Mathematics as the art of logical and deductive reasoning helped me to be able to rationalise most of the challenges I came across. My source of inspiration was reading books on the history of mathematics, especially about the Pythagoreans and their belief in numbers. My parents believed in my talent and encouraged my interest.

I began my tertiary education at UCT, majoring in electrical engineering (2001–2004). My choice of UCT was influenced by peer pressure, since most students who were top of the class the previous year all came to UCT. A poor choice of a career path and overall misunderstanding of university life and culture led me to switch to the University of the Western Cape (UWC) where I studied mathematics and statistics.

I graduated from UWC in March of 2008 and returned to UCT to join the National Astrophysics and Space Science program (NASSP) for a postgraduate honours degree. I graduated with honours in astrophysics and space science in 2009.

I completed my master’s degree in extragalactic astronomy and theoretical cosmology in 2012. My dissertation was based on testing Chameleon photon oscillation using pulsars. The Chameleon is a hypothetical scalar fundamental particle with a variable mass that depends on its environment. These particles are said to oscillate (or change) into photons (particles of light) and vice versa as they travel through a magnetic field.

Pulsars are highly spinning neutron stars that produce strong magnetic fields in the universe. The light emitted by these stars can oscillate into Chameleons, thereby reducing or enhancing the amount of light we observe with our radio telescopes. My master’s degree studies were supported by the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) bursary scheme I obtained after completing the honours program.

In September 2012 I enrolled for a PhD in the mathematics department at UCT. I am currently completing my thesis, which is titled: “The Shear-free Perfect Fluid Theorem in General Relativity”.

I am honoured to join Phase 5 of the nGAP group. I hope all the skills I have learned throughout the years of my research will be beneficial to this journey of becoming an academic and will contribute to society as a whole.

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