NMMU welcomes new science dean

MARCH 24, 2016

Theoretical physicist and highly-regarded science educator Prof Azwinndini Muronga takes up his appointment as Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s new dean of science on April 1.

Prof Muronga started his tertiary education at the University of Venda with a BSc degree in Mathematics and Physics, then enrolled for a BSc (Honours) and Masters of Science (MSc) degrees in Physics at the University of Cape Town.

Subsequently, he completed a PhD in Physics at the University of Minnesota in the United States.

He did his postdoctoral training at the University of Frankfurt and at GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Germany. He joined UCT in 2005 as a senior lecturer until September 2010. Since October 2010, he has been an associate professor at the University of Johannesburg and, until 2015, served as Director of the UJ Soweto Science Centre. 

Prof Muronga's own research field lies 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).

Apart from his own research interests, 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. 

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.

"I am excited and honoured to be joining NMMU at a time of such great opportunity. I am impressed and inspired by the quality and commitment of the University's community and look forward to serving the Faculty of Science and working with the entire Faculty community in playing a centrally important role towards the achievement of NMMU’s Vision 2020 goals. I would like to thank the entire NMMU community for giving me this opportunity."

NMMU Vice-Chancellor Prof Derrick Swartz said: “NMMU is privileged and proud to enlist the services of Professor Muronga as our new Dean of Science. We believe that his pedigree, passion and talents will greatly benefit the advancement of science and technology development not only for NMMU, but also for the wider society. With his new leadership, we can develop more effective ways of harnessing existing science and technology capabilities, as well as building new capabilities to better tackle the major developmental challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality in society. We are hugely excited about these possibilities. 

“I am confident that NMMU will give Professor Muronga the fullest support to achieve NMMU’s Vision 2020 goals and objectives, and would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to him in this achievement.” 

Image: NMMU new Dean of Science, Azwinndini Muronga.