Wits PhD student wins prize for her journal article on Bessel beams.

Wits University doctoral student Nokwazi Mphuthi has won an international prize from the Journal of the Optical Society of America A for one of her recent articles. 

Mputhi’s article, “Are Bessel beams resilient to aberrations and turbulence?” won the prize for the best journal article for by emerging researcher in 2018.

“Bessel beams are a special type of structured light that have been known not to spread and can self-heal after small non-transparent obstructions. “Phase disturbances such as atmospheric turbulence often cover the whole beam, therefore eliminating any chance of self-healing,” Mphuthi said.

The 29-year-old told Wits Vuvuzela the aim of her article was to debunk a long–held myth in the science community that Bessel beams can heal themselves after encountering phase disturbances.

“The significance of the study is that it puts to bed the myths surrounding Bessel beams. It sets the record clear on what circumstances is the beam self-healing,” she said. 

Mphuthi, worked on the project with the Structured Light Lab at Wits and the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory.

School of physics professor Andrew Forbes, who worked with Mphuthi, had nothing but praise for her.

“She competed against the best and won. The work we did put to rest a long standing debate in the optics community and so I’m delighted that the work has been recognised as it has,” he said.

Physics PhD student and Mphuthi’s colleague, Bereneice Sephton says Mputhi has acquired attributes that would make her a good scientist. 

“She is precise and conscientious of what she does, how she does it and what the outcome means. She has good critical thinking skills and knows how to ask the right questions to get to the bottom of the research problems,” said Sephton.

Mphuthi said she encountered a number of obstacles while conducting research for her article which took about 3 months to complete.

“The challenges we faced when conducting this experiment were typical for any study which aims to disprove peer-reviewed work which was accepted as gospel in the research community for the longest time.

“We had to ensure that we do thorough and complete work to cover all scenarios in order to remove any possible ambiguity from the part of the reader,” added Mphuthi.

She hopes that the work will set a benchmark for physicists to further explore and overcome the limitations which currently exist.

“I am delighted that the article has been made open source to allow access to everyone around the research community. This will allow constructive dialogue on the capabilities of structured light,” said the third-year PhD student.

Mphuthi has also been nominated in the South African Women in Science awards which will be held on Thursday, August 15.

FEATURED IMAGE: PhD student Nokwazi Mphuthi has won an international prize for the best journal article by emerging researcher. Photo: Provided.