Change the world


What is the role of Physics in society?” This question was tabled at this year’s annual conference of the South African Institute of Physics (SAIP 2022), which Nelson Mandela University's Physics department hosted earlier this month.

This forms part of a series of activities the Faculty of Science hosted this year, falling under the umbrella of the International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development (IYBSSD2022) and the Centenary of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics.

The basic sciences and society are interdependent. As the basic sciences fuel the development of new technologies necessary to tackle current challenges and take society into the future, society, in turn, guides the direction of research endeavours through technology-directed funding streams. The one supports the other, and vice versa. A better understanding of these linkages, with a focus on establishing win-win partnerships, could lead to more efficient use of time and resources.

Based on this premise, the conference programme included a range of activities with the dual-focus of exploring the role of Physics in addressing the sustainability challenges facing Africa (including innovation, good health, quality education, gender equality, clean energy etc.), while at the same time, exploring the role of industry in shaping and sustaining research programmes. To this end, the highlights of the conference included:

  • Two one-day winter schools: one focusing on Bridging the Gap Between Academia and Industry and the other focusing on the role of Biophysics in Confronting Health Challenges;
  • A Physics in Industry Day: showcasing the work of Physics alumni in industry. Delegates attending the Industry Day also discussed the development of an Industry Connection Roadmap aimed at strengthening the physics community’s ties with industry;
  • A teachers' programme ran in partnership with the DSI: aimed at addressing the skills gap identified in the Matric Diagnostics Report and general misconceptions in physical science;
  • An Escape Room challenge: learners from Gqeberha were invited to test their smarts by participating in a fun Escape Room challenge, held in the Physics department’s first-year labs; and  
  • A full programme of world-class plenary and non-specialists talks.

In addition to these above-mentioned activities, an overview of the 300+ conference contributions made by the South African physics community (academics and students) (see pie chart) shows that Physics in South Africa has long being contributing to the achievement of the global Sustainable Development Goals, with establish focus areas in innovation, clean energy, health and education. Nelson Mandela University itself, is a strong contributor in the fields of innovation, energy materials and quality education.

Going forward, the Physics department at Nelson Mandela University will play a leading role in the development and implementation of the Industry Connection Roadmap for South Africa. The roadmap aims to tackle issues surrounding student retention, graduate employability, funding and entrepreneurship. It aims to do this by exploring future technological trends and the physics-related employment landscape; and by ensuring that our graduates have the necessary skills to thrive in these environments. It also aims to strengthen ties with industry to leverage the mutually beneficial opportunities that exist between academia and industry.  

Download the full conference programme. Please contact should you wish to contribute towards the development of the Industry Connection Roadmap, or to request a conference recording.

Distribution of conference abstracts grouped according to the global Sustainable Development goals.

Top-performing first-year Physics students (from left: Tiaan de Jongh, Kianu Jonker and David Hewson) did us proud with their brilliant design of our first ever Escape Room challenge!

Contact information
Dr Lindsay Westraadt
Tel: 041 504 4764 / 2665