The Department of Physics is part of the Faculty of Science at the Nelson Mandela University (formally University of Port Elizabeth). The academic staff on the Summerstrand South campus consists of 9 permanent members, with 3 contract lecturers.

The department is one of the oldest departments at the former University of Port Elizabeth. It originated in 1965 under the guidance of Professor JH van der Merwe, who in 1994 received an honorary doctorate from UPE for his achievements in Physics. The current head of the department is Prof André Venter.


Our mission is to :

  • provide up-to-date physics education according to international standards
  • carry out original research in solid state physics which will be published internationally
  • serve the community by
    1. providing competent graduates
    2. applying physics knowledge in the region
    3. performing relevant applied research in physics

Undergraduate training

We strive to provide our students with a thorough understanding of the fundamental principles of the subject. The undergraduate curriculum covers the following fields:

  • Classical Mechanics
  • Electrodynamics
  • Thermodynamics
  • Optics
  • Electronics
  • Modern Physics
  • Solid State Physics
  • Quantum Mechanics


At honours (fourth year) level, students receive advanced training in

  • Quantum Mechanics
  • Electrodynamics
  • Solid State Physics
  • Statistical Physics


At a research level, the department focuses on the development of a variety of materials, including semiconductors, metal alloys and ceramics, as well as on the characterisation of solar energy materials and devices. The department is also actively researching optical fibre technologies for the local telecommunications industry.

The renewable energy research activities fall within the Centre for Energy Research, which focuses on photovoltaics, solar thermal energy and wind energy. The department has well equipped laboratories for the indoor and outdoor characterisation of photovoltaics and solar energy devices. We are also working on the development of concentrator photovoltaics technology for deployment in South Africa.

The department has two Metalorganic Vapour Phase Epitaxy systems (the only two MOVPE systems in South Africa), for the growth and development of semiconductor device structures. It has various vacuum systems for the synthesis of thin films as well as a well-equipped photovoltaic processing laboratory.

The laboratories also house a variety of characterisation techniques for optical (infrared and Raman spectroscopy, photoluminescence and optical spectroscopy), structural (X-ray diffraction, transmission and scanning electron microscopy and surface profiling), electrical (Hall measurements, capacitance-voltage measurements, Deep Level Transient Spectroscopy - DLTS) and compositional (Energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy) assessment of materials.

The physics department hosts one of the leading microscopy units in the Southern Hemisphere. The Centre for High Resolution Transmission Electron Microscopy was launched in October 2011. It is situated on the Nelson Mandela University South Campus in Port Elizabeth and houses four state-of-the-art electron microscopes including the only double aberration corrected transmission electron microscope on the African continent. Other instruments include a fully analytical TEM, a focused ion beam scanning electron microscope and an analytical high resolution scanning electron microscope.

Already at honours level our students become familiar with the principles of many of these characterisation methods. In the research programs, interaction and collaboration with industry is continuously sought in order to provide postgraduate students with a background that is relevant in the South African context.

Foreign students

Foreign students wishing to spend short (< 6 months) periods in the department, performing short projects as part of their overseas university's degree, should NOT work through the Nelson Mandela University Office for International Education, but should contact the department directly by using the contact info on the right.

Contact information
Prof André Venter
Associate Professor and Head of Department
Tel: +27 41 504 2579/4584