Dr Yaseera Ismail.

Dr Yaseera Ismail, a postdoctoral researcher at UKZN’s Centre for Quantum Technology, has become the first South African to be  selected as an Ambassador of the Optical Society of America (OSA).

Ismail is one of 10 ambassadors for 2018, with other participants coming from nations including the USA, Ukraine, Mexico, Australia, Brazil, Germany, Italy and Spain. The lifetime distinction recognises continuing efforts in the greater optics and photonics community. The one-year ambassadorial term sees ambassadors being given  support to travel to student chapters and local sections throughout the world to share perspectives and knowledge as mentors. Ambassadors also receive support to attend an orientation meeting in Washington, DC, and the OSA Annual Meeting, Frontiers in Optics/Laser Science (FiO/LS) 2018.

The programme enables ambassadors to support the Student Leadership Conference (SLC) and various student and young professional programmes, and to participate in further programme training and professional development focused events. More than 300 universities driving growth in the field of optics and photonics are associated with the OSA.

‘I feel honoured to be selected,’ said Ismail. ‘This is a stepping stone to many more exciting opportunities, and provides a platform to make my mark in the international scientific community and progress in my career.’

Ismail’s research focus is in the field of quantum communication. She explained that this involves the notion of ensuring the security of information by a physical process of transferring information from point to point, implemented by means of quantum carriers (single photons within which encoding is contained) forming the key used to secure sensitive information.

Ismail has been recognised for her promotion of careers in the Science, Technology and Mathematics (STEM) fields. She is also involved in student supervision at masters and honours levels.

Ismail hopes that her ambassadorship will provide motivation for other young researchers in South Africa to strive for such positions and join global efforts to make a difference in the scientific community.

‘I am looking forward to making a difference by interacting with budding scientists and engineers, and I hope that through this programme I can impact positively on others,’ said Ismail.

Ismail said the fields of optics and photonics have numerous fundamental and industrial applications, especially in optical communication and information technology, consumer electronics such as LCD and LED displays, medical technologies such as biosensors, florescent imaging and cancer therapy. They also have relevance in renewable energy technology. South Africa boasts a strong optics community working on these applications with many opportunities to contribute to the development of these applications. To ensure the sustainability of this field, however, Ismail advocated for engagement with youth to drive the field.

Her position as an OSA Ambassador with the accompanying available resources will enable her to drive the change toward an environment that cultivates ideas and enthusiasm to make a difference.

Words: Christine Cuénod 

Photograph: Supplied by Dr Yaseera Ismail