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Bright young doctoral mind goes global with prestigious international scholarship

An emerging physicist and passionate researcher, Dumisani Mlotswa does not allow obstacles encountered along his research journey to deter him from reaching his goal of successfully completing his degree. His research on persistent luminescence focusses on the synthesis and characterisation of nanomaterials using photoluminescence and thermoluminescence spectroscopy in order to understand the photonic response and electron traps of the luminescent materials.

Dumisani Mlotswa

Due to the nature of research techniques available at Unisa’s Department of Physics, he is only able to measure the luminescence lifetime of his prepared nanomaterials for up to 30 minutes, and also study deeper electron trapping centres that could only be studied at temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius. In order to study the distribution of electron trapping centres that participate in persistent luminescence, a more sophisticated research technique that will allow for measurements below room temperature is required in his study. Also, to measure longer luminescence lifetimes of up to five hours, a more sensitive photoluminescence spectrometer is needed for Dumisani’ research.

It is against this background that Dumisani actively sought a research and travel grant to support his travel to Belgium as some of the sophisticated and sensitive techniques he required are available at Ghent University’s Lumilab.

We caught up with him virtually to learn more about his acquired scholarship and his work progress to date. This is what he had to say.

Tell us about the scholarship and your programme with Ghent University.

Professor Luyanda Noto, my PhD supervisor at Unisa’s Department of Physics, had previously spent six months at Ghent University while pursuing his doctoral degree which led to a several research publications being generated. Noto is now a researcher at Unisa, and had a strong interest in renewing the collaboration with Ghent University. He has managed to do that, which presented me with an opportunity to apply for the Global Minds Scholarship at Ghent University. I then applied and was awarded the scholarship. The scholarship allows for a short research stay for a duration of three months. The programme is not a joint PhD but more of a collaborative project between Ghent University and Unisa.

Briefly, what does your research entail and what has your progress been to date?

So, in simple terms, I want to learn how to make a cheaper light bulb that will glow longer than 24 hours without the need for electrical connection by making use of energy from the sun. Thus far, my PhD research project is progressing well. I have synthesized my nanomaterials by solid state method and characterised my samples using various microscopic and spectroscopic techniques. I recently submitted a research paper to my academic supervisors to be published in international review journals. I am currently busy with more experimental work at Ghent University, and have started putting together the first chapters of my PhD thesis.

What is your advice to prospective students sceptical of pursing a qualification in maths and physics?

If you are eager to explore the universe and how it works, then a career in physics would be a good choice for you. However, if you are after money, then a career in physics is not for you. Physics requires someone who is passionate about learning, sharing knowledge with other people and who is also not afraid to ask questions. A career in physics requires a person with the spirit of never giving up (a person with big dreams is more powerful than one with facts), someone who is persistent and who will also persevere against all odds.

Dumisani obtained his MSc degree in Physics, from which he managed to publish four research articles in international peer-reviewed and accredited journals. He was previously selected as the best master’s degree presenter at the South African Nanotechnology Young Researcher Symposium in 2019. His other notable accolades include being announced as one of Mail and Guardian’s top 200 young South Africans, under the Science and Technology category in 2019.

In closing, Dumisani shared one of his favourite quotes, “If we are to achieve results never before accomplished, we must employ methods never before attempted.”

* Compiled by Dr Nozipho N Gumbi, Acting Communication and Marketing Specialist, College of Science, Engineering and Technology

Publish date: 2022/06/22