Two years ago physics professor Witek Nazarewicz was attending a nuclear physics summer school in South Africa when a discussion arose that took a good idea and created a new one. He and his colleagues were so encouraged by their positive interactions with African students and junior scientists that a plan began to take shape: an educational program that would give the young physicists a more basic offering on the current status of nuclear physics and develop research contacts in South Africa to create future collaborations.
With that in mind, Nazarewicz and Bruce Barrett of the University of Arizona submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation and won funding to help support the International Workshop on Nuclear Physics. The workshop was held May 16–27 at the National Institute for Theoretical Physics (NITheP) in Stellenbosch, South Africa.
“Announcements were sent to universities in South Africa, and also posted on several portals,” Nazarewicz explained. “We also had a large number of applicants from countries other than South Africa in Africa, whom we were unable to support due to not having the funds to fly them in. NITheP could only support South African and African students in South Africa.”
In all, the workshop drew twenty-three graduate students and post-doctoral students: twenty from South Africa, two from the United States, and one from Germany. For ten days they attended morning lectures by instructors from the U.S. (including UT associate physics professor Thomas Papenbrock), Germany, and Poland who covered an array of topics including an overview of the basic properties of atomic nuclei, a tutorial in computational physics, and reactions with rare isotopes. Lectures were followed by sessions with opportunities for hands-on experiments.
Student feedback underscored how important the hands-on component was to the overall success of the workshop. One participant was elated to write and execute his first computer code. Another had previously used data from gamma-ray detectors, but it wasn’t until she attended the summer workshop that she actually saw firsthand how the equipment works, changing the data acquisition settings as the data was arriving. As the organizing committee noted in their workshop report, “Such personal discoveries and rewarding experiences were a daily event at the hands-on sessions.”
Buoyed by the program’s success, workshop lecturers—along with the physics staff at NITheP and at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS)—began discussing possible future collaborations, including a nuclear physics course at AIMS or the organization of a Pan-African low-energy nuclear physics school in the next two years.
Additional support came from the Hemholtz International Center (HIC) for the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR) in Germany and the iThemba Laboratory for Accelerator-based Sciences in South Africa.