SA researcher involved with development of lunar laser ranging system
Nokwazi Mphuthi loves precision. And so measurements and mapping has been part of her academic life and let her to an exciting life as a surveyor. She started as a budding land surveyor and has a junior degree to back that up but quickly moved to a higher and perhaps more exciting career in astronomy.
Mphuthi’s research is about the use of versatile beams shaping devices such as Spatial Light Modulators and Digital Micro-mirror devices in conjunction with modern technical computing software. This symbiosis of electronics, computer science, and optics is the key towards the realization of the fourth industrial revolution, where static diffractive optical elements can no longer be in use. As part of her MSc studies, Mphuthi worked in a joint collaboration project with Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory, NASA (USA) and Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur (France) to develop the first Lunar Laser Ranging system in the Southern Hemisphere.
In order to improve the efficiency of the system, HartRAO collaborated with Structured Light laboratory from the University of the Witwatersrand in an effort to increase the photon return rate and optimistically pave the way for sending Orbital Angular Momentum to the Moon. Mphuthi graduated with a BSc, cum laude, in 2011 and an MSc in 2015 in Land Surveying from the University of KwaZulu- To the moon and back …Natal (UKZN), where she was named as the best Land Surveying student at UKZN and made it to the dean’s list of top students (2008-2011). She won best Ph.D. poster presentation at the 62nd South African Institute of Physics (SAIP) conference in 2018. She is also the winner for the best paper by an emerging researcher in the Journal of the Optical Society of America.
She has published 4 papers in renowned journals such as Journal of the Optical Society of America, Applied Optics, Optics Letters and South African Journal of Geology. Mphuthi has presented at national conferences such as the 62nd and 63rd SAIP and at the International Optical Network Society of Students conferences. She has also presented at the 9th annual Inkaba yeAfrica international conference held in Germany (2012). She is set to attend the OSA Frontiers in Optics/ Laser Science conference in September (Washington, USA).