Introducing Vinand: A visiting radio-astronomy researcher from Mauritius

22 Oct 2014 - 14:30

The Radar Remote Sensing Group at the University of Cape Town recently hosted a visitor from the beautiful island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.

Vinand Prayag holds a Bsc(Hons) degree in Physics from the University of Mauritius (UoM).

In 2013, he enrolled at UoM as a postgraduate research student in the field of radio-astronomy, and he is currently working at the Mauritius Radio Telescope (MRT).

What brought you to South Africa?

Vinand’s reason for visiting South Africa is to learn the engineering techniques for his research and to learn how radio-astronomy instrumentation works. He is also working towards the preliminary design of a prototype telescope.

In view of UCT’s strong involvement with radio-astronomy, Prof Mike Inggs suggested that Vinand come to Cape Town for a couple of months to work with him and his team, to get up to speed with the skills and techniques he would need for his research in observational radio-astronomy.

What is the topic of your research?

His research is essentially two-pronged:

  1. Observing the element Deuterium in our local galaxy and maybe in nearby galaxies, such as the Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small Magellanic Cloud; and
  2. Building a telescope, which is sensitive enough to detect the element Deuterium in both galactic and extragalactic regions.

Why are you interested in this particular topic?

“For many years, I have wanted to work on the Big Bang Theory. I became more motivated after reading the history of the theory and how a mathematical genius called Ralph Alpher, an American cosmologist, went about to develop a feasible model for the theory. His work was the greatest influence for my research study.

Deuterium has a big part to play in understanding the Big Bang model. It is one of the elements that was created just after the creation of the Universe. Having an accurate measurement of the element will help in constraining the photon to baryon ratio, based on the theory of nucleosynthesis of the Big Bang.”

(See photo above: “This is an artist’s concept of the metric expansion of space, where space (including hypothetical non-observable portions of the universe) is represented at each time by the circular sections. Note on the left the dramatic expansion (not to scale) occurring in the inflationary epoch, and at the center the expansion acceleration. The scheme is decorated with WMAP images on the left and with the representation of stars at the appropriate level of development.” (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bang#mediaviewer/File:CMB_Timeline300_no_WMAP.jpg)

What is the MRT?

Situated at Bras d’Eau, in north-eastern Mauritius, the Mauritius Radio Telescope (MRT) is “a 2km x 1km T-shaped Fourier non-coplanar synthesis array”, which was constructed and is operated collaboratively by the Raman Research Institute, the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, and the University of Mauritius. (More information is available here and here).

  

Tell us about your involvement in SCAP?

Vinand is also working as a Research Assistant for the Scholarly Communication for Africa Programme (SCAP). His work with SCAP made him into a strong Open Scholarly Access advocate and he regularly engages with fellow academics at the University of Mauritius, encouraging them to adopt scholarly communication practices that will make their work and research more visible and hence have greater impacts.

Being a young and budding scientist, he is also very keen to share his research with the younger generation. He regularly organises workshops for undergraduate students at UoM.

Vinand says: “I joined the SCAP team in 2012 right after my undergrad studies. I had already made up my mind about having a career in research and SCAP came at the right time for me. Although it was something completely different from my research interests, it was a nice beginning in the world of research. My day-to-day interactions with academics gave me a real feel of what it takes to do research. It also helped to hone my technical skills and gave me invaluable insights into how to interact with the research community. All in all, joining SCAP has certainly helped me to start my research career in radio-astronomy.”

Vinand stayed with us for several months and is now on his way back home. We wish him much success with his research!

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