Miss Zahra Kader, a student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit (ACRU) recently returned from Australia where she participated in a summer vacation programme, sponsored by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).
The vacation programme was held over the 2017/2018 summer holidays for 11 weeks. Students from numerous countries applied to participate in this prestigious programme and Kader was one of the few to be selected. This programme provided an opportunity for high achieving students to receive astronomy training from leading CSIRO scientists using world class facilities.
Pulsars are objects in outer space which emit light. For this programme, Kader spent time searching for pulsars as well as trying to find a new method of detecting pulsars. She also had the privilege of working with Dr Shi Dai, a postdoctoral researcher who specialises in pulsar science. Kader did not find any new pulsars but learnt a great deal about pulsars, coding and research.
‘It was absolutely amazing to be able to work at the CSIRO Astronomy and Space department (CASS). Though I am not continuing to study pulsars for my masters, the skills that I obtained during this vacation project will help me in my future studies. Aside from the work, the staff at CSIRO encouraged us to explore the city during the weekends which we were only too happy to do. It was amazing to experience all that Sydney had to offer. It really is a beautiful city and I hope to visit again,’ said Kader. Kader plans to study a PhD in Astronomy at UKZN after completing her master’s degree and then aspires to become a Postdoctoral researcher at ACRU.
Kader hopes that more women will explore opportunities in science: ‘I think women should definitely not feel daunted to enter the world of science. There are women in CASS that really stand out and make immense contributions to science. If your passion lies in science, then you should definitely pursue it. You will be doing a great service to yourself and science,’ she said.
Kader has excelled in her undergraduate studies having attained numerous accolades. She will have the opportunity to make valuable contributions to the HIRAX telescope (UKZN’s flagship project) during her masters and PhD studies. This will hold her in good stead for her long-term scientific career and for advancing South African astronomy.
Words: Merissa Naidoo