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Xolisile Octavia Thusini

South Africa

AIMS South Africa 2014

Xolisile originally from Nquthu in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa graduated from AIMS in 2014. She is currently doing her Research Master’s with Dr Andrew Hamilton at the University of Cape Town in particle physics and her research focuses on the discovery of the Higgs Boson and its properties. She recently won the Tata Africa Master’s Scholarship at the Women in Science Awards. “Growing up I wanted to be a doctor or an engineer because that is what most people talk about especially in rural areas but my first year maths lecturer convinced me to do maths and physics.” “I first got excited about maths when my secondary school teacher used an example of counting profit accumulated after a certain period of time, from there I started selling snacks during school lunch just to generate my own profit.” But it was not always easy. Maths can seem very challenging if there are no people around with mathematical problem solving skills. And the impression that young people get is that maths is a scary monster. To make it more approachable more people with maths skills should be employed in schools. “But no matter how difficult a subject is you can always find a way if you surround yourself by positive and encouraging people.” “At AIMS I discovered that it did not matter where you come from, your gender or how brilliant you were in your previous school. It is about dedication, hard work and loving what you do. Maths is as challenging as any other subject. I was always amazed by the way the students at AIMS worked together, how they talked about maths and the ideas they all had on how to apply maths in real world problems. I really believe that if we work together so much can be improved on the African continent.” As a high energy physicist, Xolisile is trying to understand the universe at the smallest scale, looking for the answer to “What are the fundamental building blocks of nature? What is the real mass? These questions may seem to be easy, but there is a lot that needs to considered. “The impact of particle physics has gone beyond the textbook and laboratories. This research field has revolutionized the way we think of the world around us, providing us with a better understanding of physics and chemistry. It has also had a great impact on other scientific fields and contributes towards training the new generation of scientists with good computing skills.” “In the future I see myself as one of the black African women who are doing well in scientific research, someone who can use her skills and knowledge to help in bettering the lives of Africans. I take it as my responsibility to empower and encourage young Africans to contribute to fields in science.” She is currently an Assistant/PhD candidate at the University of Basel, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.

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