College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Mr Damien Cole Ragavan earns his MSc in Applied Mathematics degree cum laude.

Galactical Master’s Research a Step Towards a Career in Astrophysics

Mr Damien Cole Ragavan earned his master’s degree cum laude for poring over data from the Atacama Cosmology Telescope Data Release 5 (ACT DR5) that helped him study galaxy evolution within galaxy clusters.

Ragavan pursued this topic under the auspices of UKZN’s Astrophysics Research Centre (ARC), supervised by Professor Matt Hilton. It involved measuring the optical galaxy luminosity functions (LF) for Sunayev-Zel’dovich selected galaxy clusters retrieved from the world-class ACT telescope and developing advanced computer algorithms to study this recent data.

He explained that the galaxy LF is important as it provides valuable information about galaxy evolution and formation, and the work he undertook had never been done on this dataset of galaxy clusters in such a large amount of cosmic time, namely in the redshift range of 0.20 < z < 0.80.

Ragavan found that the composite LFs are independent of cluster mass and discovered a disagreement between his study and previous field studies, confirming previous studies that suggest the cluster LF is different to the field LF.

He conducted his research through the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting physical interaction with his peers and supervisors, which added to the pressure of poor internet connectivity at his home, exacerbated by load-shedding.

Despite this, Ragavan did well, and now that he has graduated he plans to begin his PhD studies as part of the South African Rubin Observatory/Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) Programme at the University of the Witwatersrand. This is part of his quest to pursue a career in astronomy, a field that piqued his interest when he toured UKZN’s Astronomy Department in his final-year of high school.

Having always been fascinated by science and mathematics, Ragavan was captivated by a talk on astronomy at the University and excited about the possibilities offered in this discipline, which motivated him to achieve excellent results that gained him admission.

He completed his undergraduate degree in Applied Mathematics and Physics through the ARC and his Honours degree in Physics through the National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme (NASSP) at UKZN, achieving a summa cum laude pass for the latter, which involved a project on fossil galaxy groups. He is also an invited member of the Golden Key International Honour Society.

During his time in the NASSP, he acquired valuable skills in computer programming, space science and theoretical concepts in the fields of astrophysics, physics and mathematics.

Ragavan gave credit firstly to Jesus Christ, saying that without his faith he would not be where he is, and thanked his parents, Jerome and Chireen, and his sister, Caitlyn, for their constant support, encouragement, prayers and love. He acknowledged Hilton for his mentorship, guidance and responsiveness, and thanked the ARC and NASSP for making his studies possible and equipping him with the skills required for a career in astronomy. He also thanked his friends and colleagues for their support and encouragement.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan