A Shining Star Arises Through CHPC Facilitated Research
Dr Regina Maphanga is a senior researcher at the Materials Modelling Centre of the University of Limpopo. She has won several awards in recognition of her work and is the 2010 recipient of the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) Award for the category: Distinguished Black Female Researcher over 2-5 years. This was for her contribution to computational modelling of materials, in particular, electrolytic manganese dioxide.
Regina is from a rural village called Ngwanallela in GaMatlala, about 70km west of Polokwane. She has always been an academic achiever, being exempted from doing grade 6 during her primary schooling and finishing matric at the age of 16. Her very first use of a computer happened during her honours degree which she passed with distinctions, going further to do a Master’s and Doctorate in Physics, specialising in computational modelling of materials.
She describes computational modelling as a relatively new research method which combines theory and experimental research to calculate the properties of materials. Instead of laboratory equipments and samples used in traditional experiments, computational modelling makes use of computers and mathematical models to solve problems. The various methods, based on the theory, can be used to bridge the gaps between fundamental science and industrial application. These can be applied to a variety of different materials and can then be used to understand the properties of complex materials. This gives an attractive approach for the many fields where it is hard or impossible to get experimental data.
Her research work is based on computer simulations and EXAFS experiments for electrolytic manganese dioxide, which is a positive cathode material used in alkaline batteries. Ab initio and atomistic simulations (Energy Minimization and Molecular Dynamics Techniques) are used to simulate materials. She uses a state of the art and rare technique called the Amorphisation and re-crystallisation (A and R) method. During the simulation, the material is allowed to undergo amorphous configuration and calculations are prolonged until the material re-crystallises. Prolonged dynamical simulations result in re-crystallisation of the structure together with the evolution of the structural features observed experimentally. Hence the technique was found to be appropriate in the simulation of complex materials.
Regina’s research findings have been presented at national and international conferences and published in journals and conference proceedings. She currently supervises postgraduate students.
Other achievements and awards:
Selected by IAP (InterAcademy Panel for International Issues) as a Young Scientist to represent South Africa during the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian, China ( 2011)
Selected as a member of Global Young Academy: the voice of the young scientists around the world (2011)
Finalist of LOREAL/UNESCO Fellowship of “For Women in Science” South African Programme (2006)
Recipient of Special Mention Award of LOREAL/UNESCO Fellowship “For Women in Science” (2006)
Regina is a long time user of the CHPC, due to the computationally intensive nature of her research. “The CHPC became very handy when we were starting with the projects on Large Scale Simulations, and it provided us with the computing power and resources we required to carry out our simulations. It is still making a huge difference and making it possible for us to progress with our work,” she says.