South Africa Travel Course

Zebras on the Nelson Mandela University campus reserveSPRING 2024


Dr. Kebra Ward



This course offers an immersive travel experience focused on state-of-the-art science and cultural exploration in South Africa, specifically in the cities of Cape Town and Gqeberha. Prior to travel, students will read and discussion popular science articles focused on research currently being conducted in South Africa. They will also learn the theory and operation requirements of a transmission electron microscope.

Areal view of Summerstrand, GqeberhaDuring the travel portion, students will spend three days in Cape Town, delving into its rich cultural history by visiting iconic sites like Robben Island and Table Mountain, thereby gaining insights into the social dynamics of South African society. The course then transitions to Gqeberha, where students will have exclusive access to Nelson Mandela University’s Center for High Resolution Transmission Electron Microscopy (CHRTEM) to explore nanoscale imaging technologies under expert guidance. Through hands-on experiences, they will capture atomic-scale images and later present these in a special MCLA Undergraduate Research Conference session.

Throughout the course, discussions will focus on the societal impact of scientific advancements in South Africa, covering topics such as nanotechnology and materials science, providing a unique blend of cultural enrichment and cutting-edge scientific engagement.

Course Outcomes

Table Mountain as seen from the V&A waterfront

By the end of the semester, students will be able to:

  • Critically review popular science articles and summarize them, as well as re- view and provide helpful criticism to similar work done by their peers.
  • Gain an understanding of the principles, operating techniques, and applications of nanoscale imaging using a high-resolution transmission electron microscope (HRTEM).
  • Produce an image using the HRTEM that will be presented at the MCLA URC.
  • Recognize the interdisciplinary nature of scientific research and its broader implications. Students will develop an understanding of how advancements in fields such as nanotechnology and materials science contribute to addressing global challenges.
  • Improve cultural fluency and flexibility.
  • Position experiential learning in relation to classroom learning. 

Colorful houses in Bo-Kaap

Destination Introductions

Cape Town

Cape Town, South Africa, is a vibrant coastal city steeped in history and framed by the iconic Table Mountain. Students can explore the poignant Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, stroll through the colorful Bo-Kaap neighborhood that tells the tale of Cape Malay culture, and visit the bustling V&A Waterfront, a hub of entertainment, shopping, and maritime heritage. With its rich blend of cultures, landscapes, and histories, Cape Town offers an educational journey like no other.


TEM image of a fly's eye taken at Nelson Mandela University

Gqeberha, located along South Africa's Eastern Cape, is a coastal city known for its sandy beaches, rich cultural heritage, and historical landmarks. Students can delve into its storied past at the Donkin Heritage Trail, experience the local arts scene at Route 67, and gain exclusive access to the Centre for High Resolution Transmission Electron Microscopy at Nelson Mandela University, a cutting-edge facility where they can capture intricate nanoscale images. This captivating city seamlessly combines leisure, history, and academic exploration for an enriching experience.

Trip Details

The following trip components have been paid for by a generous donor:

  • Flights to and from South Africa
  • Local transportation in country
  • Accommodations (shared rooms in local lodges)
  • Breakfast in Cape Town and some dinners
  • Lab fees and admissions to the following attractions: Robben Island, Table Mountain cable car, District 6 Museum, Bo-Kaap Walking Tour, Addo Elephant Reserve, Donkin Reserve Walking Tour
  • Travel insurance

Students are responsible for remaining meals and any incidentals (souvenirs, etc.).

Dr. Kebra Ward

MCLA students will receive three upper-level credits.

Contact Information

Dr. Kebra Ward
Physics Department 
(413) 662-5478

Dr. Ward teaches a variety of courses in physics and specializes in optics. She taught at Nelson Mandela University for the Spring 2022 semester and has close connections to the researchers at the CHRTEM.