The NFI’s Dr Phylis Makurunje has made an appearance in the 100th volume of the American Ceramic Society Bulletin. Phylis’ article describes how the South African space program (SANSA) inspired her as a young woman to become a materials engineer working on aerospace composite materials. Phylis says that “South Africa is one ambitious country, ambitious in that it’s serious about research and development and how it plays in the ecosystem of the economy and industry.”
Phylis’ ambitions to work in the space industry led her to pursue a PhD in materials engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, working with ceramics for aerospace applications. After completion, she moved to Wales to join the Nuclear Futures Institute at Bangor University as a post-doctoral research officer, where she explores how aerospace materials and nuclear energy can converge.
Phylis discusses her work, she says “I focus on ultrahigh-temperature ceramics that have an unusually high melting point. We’re talking about above 2,000°C, but especially above 3,000°C.”
The high melting point materials are priority areas of research, increasing the number of reusable materials and components furthers progress towards commercialising space travel.
Phylis also talks of her “…love (of) seeing ideas going commercial. That’s what really drives me to, at some point be in the industry again.”
That career shift may entail a return to South Africa. “We have a lot of new space players coming from the African continent, and already South Africa is a leading player in for a number of decades in the space arena,” she says. “A lot of changes are happening. A lot of developments are happening globally from countries that were not there. That means that anything can happen, really.”