The National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme (NASSP), a multi-institutional postgraduate programme training graduates in astronomy, astrophysics and space science, was launched in the School of Chemistry and Physics.
The programme has been successfully run at the University of Cape Town (UCT) for a decade, and has now been introduced at UKZN and at North West University (NWU).
Funded by the Department of Science of Technology through the National Research Foundation (NRF), the programme is intended to develop human capital in what are scarce skills in the country. Students being trained in this programme are encouraged to enrol at institutions across the country to strengthen national research capacity.
The programme consists of contact teaching through coursework components as well as research, and will also contribute to national programmes such as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) through its capacity-building skills development.
UKZN currently has two honours students and one master’s student enrolled in the programme. Acting Director of the UKZN NASSP node, Professor Sivakumar Venkataraman, believes the value-adding programme would contribute to strengthening the University’s space science and astrophysics teaching and research.
The students have been enrolled in honours programmes in the applied mathematics stream, while master’s students undertake research work for two years on either space science or astrophysics topics. This includes data collection from relevant institutes, including SANSA and the South African Large Telescope (SALT).
The programme will host visiting experts from around the country for seminars and training. A national curriculum approach for all the three units is foreseen, and may begin from 2018.
UKZN has academics in physics and mathematics with expertise in space science, astronomy and astrophysics, promising success for the programme.