College of Science, Engineering & Technology

The sky's the limit as Unisa students gain exposure to the latest astronomy research in Japan

Eight master’s and doctoral students based at Unisa’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology, under the supervision of Prof James Chibueze from the Department of Mathematical Sciences, Astronomy Division, were recently afforded an opportunity to participate in a three-week Sakura Science Exchange Programme visit administered by the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST). The JST is a Japanese government agency which aims to build infrastructure that supports knowledge creation and dissemination in Japan.


Prof Chibueze (right) with his students at Kagoshima University in Japan

The exchange programme was spearheaded by Chibueze, who accompanied the students to Kagoshima University in Japan from 11 to 31 January 2024. Kagoshima University is Chibueze’s alma mater, and he studied radioastronomy and astrophysics at the institution.


The NAOJ VERA (VLBI Exploration for Radio Astrometry) Iriki Observatory at Kagoshima University (Image credit: Kagoshima University)

The exchange programme was initiated from the South African Embassy in Tokyo. Prof Hiroyuki Nakanishi from Kagoshima University and Chibueze received an invitation from the Department of Science and Innovation in Japan to put together a proposal for funding, that would enable an exchange between students from South Africa and Japan to be well equipped in the fields of radioastronomy and astrophysics.

"We submitted a proposal application in August 2023, and in October 2023 we received a response that the application was successful," says Chibueze. "South Africa has invested significantly in radioastronomy through the MeerKAT Radio Telescope which is a precursor to the Square Kilometre Array project that cost about R4,2 billion, and is already operational. It’s a like-for-like exchange: we go to Japan to learn more about radioastronomy through their VLBI Exploration of Radio Astrometry (VERA) project, and from our side bring the MeerKAT project to the table."

During their visit, the students were taken through the fundamentals of radioastronomy techniques at lectures presented by professors from Kagoshima University and Chibueze, site visits to telescopes where students could tour the facilities, and cultural visits to the homes of some of the samurais in Japan.


Prof Chibueze engaging with Prof Akiro Sano, President of Kagoshima University

The Sakura Science Exchange Programme funds talented and aspiring scientists, researchers and others involved in the sciences under the age of 40 to visit Japan, and promotes the exchanges in the field of science and technology. The programme gives students an opportunity to experience Japan’s cutting-edge science and technology as well as its culture.

A prolific scholar and distinguished professor


Prof James Chibueze, distinguished astronomy scholar

Since joining Unisa on 1 July 2023 as a distinguished professor leading the university’s Astronomy and Square Kilometre Array Catalytic Niche Area, Chibueze has focused on assessing the current astronomy landscape at Unisa, visiting the university’s observatory in Pretoria, and intensifying the recruitment of master’s and doctoral students and postdoctoral research fellows.

He has hit the ground running, making great strides in boosting collaborations between Unisa and other institutions with strong astronomy interests, such as South African Radio Astronomy Observatory and the SETI Centre at the University of California, Berkeley.


* By Dr Nozipho N Gumbi, Communication and Marketing Specialist (acting), Unisa College of Science, Engineering and Technology

Publish date: 2024/02/15

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