ACRU MSc graduate heads to Princeton for PhD

Ms Heather Prince, an astronomy postgraduate student in the Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit (ACRU) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) has been accepted to study a PhD degree in Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University. She joins the prestigious institution’s Department of Astrophysical Sciences in September this year.

HeatherPrince received her Masters degree in astrophysics from UKZN in April this year and has since worked on writing up results from her Masters thesis work. Her research focused on gravitational lensing of the relic Cosmic Microwave Background light from the Big Bang and intensity mapping of light emitted by neutral hydrogen. Prince also studied what could be learned from combining observations of both these cosmic probes.

Gravitational lensing occurs when light is refracted or bent when travelling though portions of outer space. It is a phenomenon which helps astronomers understand how matter is distributed throughout the Universe. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and neutral hydrogen atoms emit light with a wavelength of 21 centimetres. Intensity mapping of neutral hydrogen is an observational method that allows astronomers to study how neutral hydrogen is disributed in the Universe. Prince’s research will form the basis for two research papers.

Prince who hails from Pietermaritzburg, discovered her passion for Maths and Physics while attending Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High School. In 2009 she matriculated as one of the top 10 public school learners in the National Senior Certificate examinations in KwaZulu-Natal. After completing a BSc degree in 2012 at Rhodes University, she became interested in astronomy which lead to her enrolling for a BSc Honours degree, specialising in cosmology, at UKZN in 2013. Prince was awarded this degree summa cum laude and proceeded to study a Masters degree in astronomy. After completing her PhD at Princeton, she plans to return to South Africa to continue her career by focussing on astronomy research and academia at a South African university.

Prince expressed her excitement about being accepted to study at Princeton University. “It is a dream come true to be able to study at Princeton and learn from the leading scientists in my field, in a department where top researchers from all over the world come to give talks and to visit. I am so excited about the opportunities that I will have to learn more and to become a world class researcher.” she said.

Prince is very passionate about her studies and this has motivated her to work diligently. As a result, she has received numerous accolades during her academic career including the Rhodes University Foundation Scholarship (awarded to the top student graduating with a Bachelor’s degree from Rhodes University), the Vincent Maphai Scholarship (awarded to the top-ranked Masters student at UKZN based on Honours results) and a bursary from the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) South Africa organisation.

When questioned about what she will miss about studying in South Africa, Prince replied “I will miss the people at ACRU. My supervisor and the rest of the staff, students and postdoctoral researchers have created a really great, friendly learning environment and I will be sad to leave that! I also really enjoyed the international environment at ACRU, with people from many different countries. I am especially grateful to SKA SA for providing me with support and funding for my Masters degree.”