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Faculty of Science


Matthew Coombes who graduated in April with his Doctoral degree in physics from NMMU. According to his promoter, Prof. Jannie Neethling, he obtained all his previous degrees in physics and chemistry from Rhodes University with distinction.

His doctoral research dealt with the chemical changes that occur in catalysts that are used by the industry (e.g. Sasol) to convert coal and natural gas into petroleum products. Matthew, who grew up in East London, enrolled at NMMU in order to use the highly sophisticated electron microscopes available at the university. During his studies, he also made use of a new type of nano-reactor that can be used inside the electron microscope and allows the researcher to follow the course of chemical reactions at an atomic scale.


As part of his research, Matthew's in-depth study made use of ten different advanced instruments and techniques to study these catalysts. Since some of these instruments were only available in England, America and at Sasol, he had to spend some of his time at different institutes to perform the research. The result of all this work, according to his promoter, is a high-quality thesis that received international recognition for its major contribution to the field of study. According to Matthew, he is very excited about this research, as it helps contribute to our understanding of materials. "The ability to follow chemical reactions at the atomic scale is absolutely amazing - who wouldn't be excited!" he says. "Being able to incorporate the nano-reactor work as part of my research was an incredible opportunity that few in the world have had. It was also a fantastic experience doing my Ph.D. at NMMU. I learned an incredible amount from the highly skilled and experienced team of people working there." The co-promoters for this study were Dr. Jaco Olivier from NMMU and Dr. Esna du Plessis from Sasol.

Prof Jannie Neethling (left) and Dr Matthew Coombes (right)