Astronomy star rising

13 Jun 2016 - 11:00

Michael Hlabathe

In 2011 Professor Thebe Medupe visited the University of Venda, where Michael Hlabathe was completing his undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Physics, to recruit students for the National Astophysics and Space Science Programme.  (NASSP) at UCT. At this time Michael knew very little about astronomy and was captivated by the talk by Professor Medupe and signed up for the NASSP winter school.

In 2012 Michael joined the NASSP extended honours programme, which equips students with no astronomy background with skills in astronomy and computation.  For Michael this was a challenging year, where he found it difficult acclimatising to Cape Town weather, the UCT teaching methods and being far from home.  By 2013 he was part of the honours programme and was introduced to research and working with astronomical data and images, under the supervision of Dr Brent Miszalski from the SAAO.  His research was about finding symbiotic stars in the large magellanic cloud.  His research yielded positive results and he acquired the valuable ability to write computer software and to do do data reduction and analysis of images.  He describes how it was a huge learning curve for someone who didn't previously have any computational background prior to joining the program. Michael also improved his writing and presentation skills and learned how to draw conclusions.

2014 saw Michael begin a Masters with a dissertation entitled, "Post-common-envelope binary central stars of Planetary Nebulae".  He worked with Dr Miszalski and Dr Vanessa McBride, who he said played a pivotal role in challenging him and assisting him to produce research and work of a high quality.  

Michael's research has yielded results worth following up and he has now embarked on a PhD at UCT.