NRF Youth Month 2024: Thandi Elinah Mazibuko

NRF Youth Month 2024: Thandi Elinah Mazibuko

This year’s Youth Month is significant as the NRF celebrates 25 Years of Research, Innovation, Impact and Partnerships. These are the stories of the youth who have not only been impacted by the NRF but who also have an impact in their own spaces – and beyond! We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us.

Ms Thandi Elinah Mazibuko is a Solid-State Physics PhD candidate at the Department of Physics at the University of the Free State (UFS). She is currently funded by the NRF for her PhD studies. She also received funding from the NRF for her Honours as well as an internship with NRF-iThemba LABS.

How did your journey start?

At the beginning of my Matric year in 2012, I wrote down a goal to achieve four distinctions. I aimed for this because I wanted to be one of the top 100 achievers in the Free State, which would qualify me for a bursary. Growing up in poverty, I knew early on that my mother couldn’t afford my university fees. I was determined to attend university, and a bursary was my only way. I’ve always loved learning and reading, and my dream as a child was to read as many books as possible. The idea of university libraries filled with books fascinated me. Additionally, I wanted to make my mother and family proud.

My grandmother had moved to QwaQwa to ensure that her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren could attend school, as it was seen as an educational hub at the time. Pursuing education was my way of keeping her dream alive. Neither my grandmother nor my mother had completed their education, so I was on a mission to complete mine.

On January 1, 2013, I received a call from my school’s principal informing me that I was one of the top 100 Free State achievers for the 2012 Matric exams. I went on to study a BSc in Physics at the University of the Free State (UFS) because I enjoyed Physical Sciences and Mathematics in high school. After completing my undergraduate degree, I received funding from the National Research Foundation (NRF) to pursue my Honours degree. Subsequently, I enrolled in an MSc in Nanoscience program at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). I chose to study in a different province to challenge myself and grow in new environments, having lived in the Free State all my life. When the opportunity arose to study at UWC with a fully funded scholarship, I seized it. This experience enriched me academically and socially as I learned new languages, cultures, and traditions.

Two months after submitting my thesis, I got a job as a science engagement intern at NRF-iThemba LABS, which marked the beginning of my passion for science education. I applied for this internship to step outside the lab and improve my communication skills. I enjoyed my time there, and it shaped my future choices. I fell in love with science education, and after the internship ended, I volunteered at Reahola Senior Secondary School where I taught Mathematics and Physical Sciences.

My love for science education also led me to a part-time lecturing job at the Central University of Technology (CUT), where I taught radiation physics to first-, third-, and fourth-year radiography students. After a two-year academic break, I decided to apply for a PhD in Physics at UFS. I have always been fascinated by luminescent materials and wanted to research this field.

How has your affiliation with the NRF impacted your studies/career?

My relationship with the NRF began during my Honours year when I received funding to further my education. This support was crucial in allowing me to pursue advanced studies and deepen my knowledge in my field.

My connection with the NRF continued when I worked as a science engagement intern at NRF-iThemba LABS under NRF-SAASTA. This experience allowed me to grow as a science engagement practitioner and exposed me to an entrepreneurial workshop, which inspired me to start a tutoring business. I began tutoring Physical Sciences and Mathematics using YouTube as a medium.

Currently, I am funded by the NRF for my PhD, which supports my research in solid-state physics. This ongoing relationship with the NRF has been instrumental in my academic and professional development.

What is your research focus on/what is your area of expertise?

I am currently pursuing a PhD in solid-state physics, with a specific research focus on the investigation of tri-doped Ca2YZr2Al3O12: Eu3+, Ce3+, Tb3+ for application in white light-emitting diodes (LEDs). My work involves studying the luminescent properties of this material, aiming to enhance its efficiency and colour quality for use in LEDs.

Why is your work/studies important?

By understanding how the doping of europium (Eu3+), cerium (Ce3+), and terbium (Tb3+) affects the material’s performance, I am working towards developing more efficient and cost-effective white LEDs. This research has the potential to contribute to advancements in lighting technology, offering benefits such as reduced energy consumption and improved light quality.

What are some of your proudest academic achievements? (

  • Overcoming personal adversity and academic challenges to become a top achiever in the Free State matriculation exams, securing four distinctions and ranking among the top 100 achievers in 2012.
  • Pursuing higher education, earning a Bachelor’s degree in physics from the UFS and a Master’s degree in Nanoscience from UWC.
  • Transitioning into science engagement and education, working as a science engagement intern at iThemba LABS (story here) and later joining the YES program as a teacher assistant at Reahola Secondary School.
  • Establishing and growing my educational YouTube channel, “Thandisayensi,” to share tutorials and knowledge in Physical Sciences.
  • Achieving acceptance into a PhD program in solid-state physics with a focus on luminescent materials, marking a significant step in my academic and professional journey.
  • Securing a part-time position as a Radiation Physics lecturer at Central University of Technology (CUT), contributing to both academia and your personal growth.
  • I am a co-author of this article on Science Direct, “Spectrometry studies of Ag implanted silicon carbide thin films for application as a diffusion barrier against transition metals.”

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