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With her parents as her biggest fans, up-and-
coming female Astrophysicist Dr Kenda Knowles
already has a string of prestigious awards under
her belt.

A fascination with the night sky led UKZN PhD graduate Dr Kenda Knowles to pursue astronomy as a career.

The former Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High School student studied BSc and BSc Honours degrees at UKZN, achieving them both summa cum laude. She then studied for a Master’s degree in Applied Mathematics at the Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit (ACRU) at UKZN, which was later upgraded to a PhD.

Knowles’s academic career consists of ground-breaking work, such as being part of an international team of astronomers which determined the distribution of dark matter in a galaxy cluster using data from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Her PhD research included a paper that she led as first author, on the discovery of a new radio halo in a galaxy cluster. The paper has been accepted for publication in an international peer-reviewed astronomy journal. In addition, Knowles has received bursaries from the Square Kilometre Array South Africa project, won in the Doctoral Fellowship category at the 2015 Women in Science Awards and was selected to attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting in Germany last year, where she engaged with other leading young international scientists.

‘Research is a long, hard journey but with a lot of great times thrown in for good measure. It’s incredibly worth it in the end,’ said Knowles. ‘I was motivated to work hard because of the pride my family, specifically my Grandad, had in me. I wanted to make sure I finished my PhD while he was still around to see it. I also received a great deal of support from my best friend (and fellow PhD student) Susan Wilson, and my supervisor Professor Kavilan Moodley, who was always willing to advise me and help me get back on track when I faced an obstacle.’

Knowles is currently a Claude Leon Postdoctoral Fellow based at ACRU. She is working with data from the MUSTANG telescope, which will allow researchers to study the behaviour of gas within galaxy clusters. She hopes to work with the SKA SA project in the future.