Cosmology on Safari 2023

by Dr Sinenhlanhla Precious Sikhosana

From the 6th to 10th of March 2023, UKZN’s Astrophysics Research Centre (ARC) hosted Cosmology on Safari (Cosmo Safari) for the fourth time at the ANEW hotel in Hluluwe, KZN. This bi-annual conference focuses on the interplay between cosmological models and data, with emphasis on the challenges that remain in cosmology. The first Cosmo Safari was hosted at the Bonamanzi Game Reserve in Hluhluwe and was the brainchild of Prof. Sievers (ARC’s honorary Professor, currently based at McGill University in Canada) and Prof. Moodley (current ARC director). The vision was to have a meeting that would gather an audience of international, well-established Cosmologists and students in the field in a venue that would give the attendees a truly South African experience. 

The conference programme covered a range of topics, including theoretical perspectives on dark matter, dark energy, gravitational theories and gravitational waves, and the early universe, including inflation and primordial physics. Observational probes, including cosmic microwave background experiments, large-scale structure surveys, 21cm intensity mapping and global measurements, galaxy clusters, gravitational lensing, supernovae, and baryon acoustic oscillations. Scientists leading in their respective fields were invited to give a broad overview of the current status in theoretical and observational cosmology. The invited speakers included,  Martin Kunz (Geneva), Suzanne Staggs (Princeton), Stefan Taubenberger (Max-Planck-Institut für Astrophysik), and Michelle Lochner (UWC) (more speakers are listed on the conference website). The programme was also balanced with fun social activities such as game drives, quiz night, and karaoke evenings. The combination of high-quality science talks and social events left a lasting impression on the attendees.

“Cosmology on Safari – 2023 has a unique blend of Science and Wildlife experience, where we get to see the research in cutting-edge cosmology from the experts and drive through the game reserves to witness the wild animals (especially the Big 5) at their habitats. This week-long conference gave me a chance to present my PhD work and discuss it with the field experts to get their insights. The sessions were well organized, with equally academic and non-academic activities like presentations, karaoke nights, bush braai, night game drives, pub quizzes, and birding breakfast. I thoroughly enjoyed this unique conference experience and had a wonderful time, which gave me new perspectives in research.” These are some of the comments by Ajith Sampath (a PhD student at UKZN). 

Closing the conference, Prof. Yin Zhe Ma shared with the audience a timeline of the breakthroughs in Cosmology and how new physics is needed to complete the picture of the cosmological evolution of the universe. In his view, the new physics might emerge from the studies of CMB/Large Scale Structure (LSS) neutrino masses, direct detection of dark matter, and the physics of the Epoch of Reionization.