Space & Astronomy

Gas sensing machine a breath of fresh air for Unizulu physicists

PHYSICISTS at the University of Zululand are beside themselves with joy after obtaining an important gas sensing machine, one of only two in the country. UNIZULU clinched the important instrument after impressing the National Research Foundation (NRF) with a tenacious application and landed them the R4.6 million instrument.

“The machine is a great blessing for the department and the university,” said Mr Thulani Jili, the Head of the Department of Physics at the university. Jili  led the effort to acquire the machine for the university situated near the small town of Empangeni in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

Perhaps even more excited about having the machine on campus is the Director at the Richards Bay Campus, Professor Muzi Ndwandwe. “It is a very exciting time for the faculty as well as the university,” he says.

The instrument in question is a Gas Sensor Tester System. The machine is only one of two that exist in the country and Jili says that it puts UNIZULU, previously known as a rural university, on the international map and in touch with other, good reputable researchers and institutions worldwide.

“The system will go on to inspire undergraduate and postgraduate students,” he says.

The machine comes as a welcome gift for young researchers at the Physics Department such as Dr. Puleng Biyela who works with metal oxides for gas sensing. “It helps to have it on site as it makes my work much faster and makes for much better optimisation,” she says. “This facility will also come in handy for acquiring students at the department.”

For Amanda Sefage, senior technician at the department, the instrument comes with great convenience; “The machine is the core of my project. Before this, I have had to travel to the CSIR to use a similar machine in Pretoria.”

PhD candidate, Charles Thethwayo says having the machine on site opens many opportunities. “It will make it easier to conduct experiments. It gives us a sense of unity. With it, we can work with local industries that need sensors that we can develop.”

Ndwandwe and the other physicists at the department want to develop odour detectors that can be used commercially. Richards Bay is a hub of different industries from smelters, to mines to chemical processing plants and this presents an opportunity for the university to contribute to this industrial town.

Excitedly, the machine’ presence at UNIZULU has drawn some interest from international institutions such as a group in Sweden at Sulea University of Technology, which has approached UNIZULU to collaborate on future projects.

Overall, Ndwandwe together with all physicists involved at UNIZULU agree that the small department and university have come a long way.

“The future looks bright for UNIZULU.”

The UNIZULU physicists stand proudly in front of the Physics Department at the KwaDlangezwa campus near Empangeni. From left to right: Dr Steven Nkosi, Prof Muzi Ndwandwe, Amanda Sefage, Thulani Jili, Nelisiwe Chonco, Dr Puleng Biyela, and Charles Thethwayo.


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