College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Professor Naven Chetty.

Unlocking a New Generation of Physicists Explored in Inaugural Lecture

‘The number of physics graduates is declining rapidly with a consequence of dire shortages in key fields such as biomedical physics, geophysics and medical physics.’

This was the stark picture painted by Professor Naven Chetty during his inaugural lecture held on Wednesday, 20 July 2022.

Chetty, a physicist by profession, chose to focus his lecture on what the future holds for physics education. ‘Shortages of physics graduates will have a deep impact on research and development as well as economic growth,’ he said.

Chetty suggested that the best strategy to increase physics graduates is to strengthen the school curriculum. ‘Interventions are urgently needed at the level of high school for any impact to be felt at tertiary level,’ he said.

‘The tertiary curriculum is also in drastic need of an overhaul which includes wider usage of problems-based learning (PBL), technological learning (TL) and group learning (GL).

‘COVID-19 has provided an ideal platform for much needed reforms in the teaching of physics with greater focus on graduate attributes and increased throughputs,’ he said.

Himself a product of the former University of Natal (now UKZN) and of UKZN, Chetty gained his PhD in 2009 for research in molecular optics. He started working at UKZN in 2006 as a contract lecturer and moved over to permanent staff in 2010. Since 2017, he has filled the position of Dean of Teaching and Learning in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science.

He mentioned several milestones in his career at UKZN of which he was especially proud. These include developing the augmented physics module in 2007 whilst employed as a senior tutor in the newly established Augmented Programme; working as Assistant Dean of Recruitment for the Faculty of Science and Agriculture from 2008-2010, with his primary function being to increase student enrolment into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM); serving as the Academic Leader of Teaching and Learning for the School of Chemistry and Physics in 2014; rejuvenating the College’s Access Programme in 2015 with the establishment of the Centre for Academic Success in Science and Engineering (CASSE); being promoted to Associate Professor in 2017; and attaining a full Professorship in 2020.

Chetty sits on many national and international committees in his field of physics as well as in the broader educational field. He is a member of the University’s Senate, Council and Finance Committee. He also serves on the distinguished student and teacher award committees.

Chetty has been a reviewer for the Council for Higher Education from 2016 to date as well as an evaluator on the evaluation review panel at Umalusi since 2018. In addition, he served as an Editor of the Open Physics Journal as well as a member of the various NRF accreditation panels. He is also a reviewer for a variety of journals and an examiner of programmes and theses of many universities in Southern Africa and India.

Chetty has supervised eight PhD and 16 MSc graduates, with two summa cum laude and seven cum laude passes. He has 44 peer-reviewed journal articles and 12 conference proceedings published. Against his name is funding received in the region of R6 million over the past six years, most notably funding for underprivileged students to pursue degrees.

Other notable awards and recognition include a C3 rating from the NRF; the College Distinguished Teacher Award for 2015; and the University Distinguished Teachers’ Award for 2017.

Chetty is recognised as a research scientist and teacher in biomedical and experimental physics globally. He is passionate about growing physics at UKZN.

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Supplied