NMMU Science Dean and theoretical physicist to unlock secrets of the universe

JULY 20, 2016

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s Executive Dean of Science, Prof Azwinndini Muronga – a theoretical physicist and highly-regarded science educator – is delivering a public lecture in George on July 21, titled “Gravitational waves: Einstein’s ripples in the fabric of space-time – Unlocking the deep secrets of the Universe”.

His talk is part of the Sustainable Futures Leadership series, driven by the University’s George Campus Principal, Prof Quinton Johnson.

“In my talk, I will explore what gravitational waves are and why Einstein predicted them 100 years ago, how they are created and why it has been so hard to find them. We will then discuss how gravitational waves will revolutionise our understanding of the universe.”

Prof Muronga said scientists announced in February that they had detected a signal in September last year, of two solar mass black holes merging about 1.3 billion light years from Earth.

“It was the first time that scientists had observed ripples in the fabric of space-time, called gravitational waves, arriving at the earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos.”

NMMU Science Dean to unlock ‘secrets of the universe’

Prof Muronga, who took up his role as NMMU Executive Dean of Science in April, holds a Masters of Science (MSc) degree in Physics from the University of Cape Town and a PhD in Physics from the University of Minnesota, United States. He served as Director of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Soweto Science Centre until last year. He was also an associate professor at UJ and, prior to that, a senior lecture at the University of Cape Town.

He completed his postdoctoral training at the University of Frankfurt and at GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Germany.

Last year, he was elected as President of the South African Institute of Physics (SAIP). 

In reflecting on his background and initial inspirations to study science, Prof Muronga once said: “When I was growing up in the dark villages, the only beautiful things were the surrounding nature and the sky. As a young herd boy looking after goats and cattle, I fell in love with nature and started asking questions that were considered taboo.”

This curiosity led him to become a physicist interested in not only asking fundamental questions about nature and origins, but also how the powers of science and technology could be harnessed to change the world for the better, especially for those at the margins of society.

His own research interests lie in the intersection of nuclear physics, particle physics, astrophysics and cosmology, studying the nature and properties of hot and dense matter in heavy ion collisions and astrophysics, as well as the properties of a new state of matter, Quark Gluon Plasma (QGP), which existed just for a microsecond at the beginning of the universe after the Big Bang and might also exist in the deep interior of neutron stars.

He has collaborated with scientists working on large experimental facilities such as the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider facility in Brookhaven National Laboratory, New York and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research known as CERN (Switzerland).

Prof Muronga is also an outstanding and recognised science educator, with a strong passion for taking science to society, particularly to rural and disadvantaged communities. He received the Aneesur Rahman Prize in 2003, the 2013 Distinguished Leadership Award for Internationals (both from the University of Minnesota), and the 2013/2014 NSTF-BHP Billiton Award (National Science and Technology Forum and Broken Hill Proprietary Billiton Awards) for his outstanding contributions to science education and leadership. 

  • Prof Muronga’s public lecture takes place in the George Campus Lecture Theatre, from 12pm to 1pm on July 21.