STEENKAMP Christine Margarete
University of Stellenbosch
Dr. STEENKAMP, born in South Africa in 1974, completed her undergraduate and graduate studies in University of Stellenbosch and obtained her PhD degree in Laser Physics in 2003 and then began her academic career in University of Stellenbosch.
In her brief career she has already achieved a great deal, all the more remarkable in view of the fact that her scientific output of a very high standard has been achieved in the field of experimental physics, where no research infrastructure was available when she started her career.
Her achievements are indeed remarkable, since she was responsible for the design and construction of most of the apparatus which she has used in her investigations - these facilities did not exist, and still are not commercially available. She constructed and used a unique vacuum ultra violet laser source, and has used this tool to investigate super cooled CO molecules. Rotationally resolved spectra of electronic excitations from the ground state could be studied using this source. For the first time measurements of the spectra of the rare CO isotopomers could be obtained in a laboratory. This is of great interest to astrophysics community, since this information is required to interpret results obtained from space station observations of interstellar space. The relevance of this is reflected in the fact that two publications were published in the Astrophysical Journal, and recently follow up work was accepted in the Journal of Molecular Spectroscopy. She co-supervised a PhD student (A du Plessis) on the continued project. The project is continuing due to international interest in the unique laser facility she constructed, and the full potential of the facility is yet to be realized.
The quality of her work also attracted the attention of Prof Carl Wieman, Nobel laureate in 2001, who, subsequent to a visit to South Africa, invited her to join his group in Boulder, Colorado for an extended research visit in 2004/5. This has led to a new experimental initiative, supported by the African Laser Centre, (www. africanlasercentre.org) whereby she started a project aimed at laser cooling of atoms. Under her supervision a MSc student, Gibson Nyamuda from Zimbabwe, has produced an excellent thesis for which a cum laude mark was awarded. Dr Steenkamp has an ongoing project on laser coating and trapping.
Her achievements, however, go far beyond the publications and presentations at international and national conferences. She has been able to inspire students to become involved in research at the Laser Research institute (LRI) (www. laser-research. ce.za). Her experimental skills and her ability to handle theoretical aspects of the work have become well known amongst her peers and her leadership has lead to the establishment of a team of students and colleagues. She is on the management committee of the LRI where she plays a very important scientific and managerial role. Her influence has made an impact at the Lasers Optics and Spectroscopy subgroup of the South African Institute of Physics (www.saip.org.za) where she has become a well known and respected member of the research community. For her contribution to South African Physics she was awarded the 2909 Silver Jubilee Medal of the SAIP. She has contributed considerably to initiatives of the African Laser Center and African Institute for Mathematical sciences (AIMS) (www. aims.ac.za), both NEPAD initiatives aimed at establishing and improving science research in Africa. Here her pioneering spirit and ability to do excellent experimental science with meager resources has shown the way forward. Her ability to work as a team member while leading an initiative makes her contributions so effective. She is an inspiring, respected and well loved teacher.
The unique qualities of Dr Christine Steenkamp have been acknowledged at various stages of her short career, as is evident from the long list of awards appearing in her CV. Here it is noted that in 1997 she was the recipient of the Stellenbosch University Chancellor's Award, the highest academic recognition the University annually bestows on one of its students. In 2003 she was one of three national recipients of the Women in Science Fellowships awarded by the Department of Science and Technology. Her research achievements are recognized by her peers and she has received support for her research from the National Research Foundation (NRF) (www.nrf.Ac.za) through the Thuthuka program, the National Laser Centre (www. csir. co. za/nic), as well as the African Laser Centre. Recently she was awarded the 2009 Silver Jubilee Medal of the SAIP.
Dr Christine Steenkamp's person and career represent the type of role model that the South African an African Physics community can proudly identify with arid use to inspire an upcoming and aspiring new generation of young physicists.
In her short career (she is also raising two children) she has published in established peer reviewed journals and presented several papers at international and national conferences in a broad spectrum of topics.