“In the World through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself.” ― Frantz Fanon


Technology & Innovation


School of Physics, University of the Witwatersrand

Isaac Nape has been recognised internationally for his groundbreaking quantum science and for his leading role in quantum technologies in South Africa.

At only 29, he has won 15 awards for his science and innovation, including international awards from major optical societies, and has represented South Africa at the Global Young Scientists Summit, a collection of the brightest young minds on the planet.

His work has been featured in top journals and made international news, covering topics such as breaking new encryption codes using quantum light, novel quantum imaging with entangled photons and new ways to get quantum light down the optical fibre.

His work has paved a way to convert science into technology for a better future for South Africans. In addition he helps to popularise science among the youth, spending his free time at schools to inspire the next generation of scientists.

Isaac would like to see South Africa become a hub for knowledge and technology development in the world. “I’d like to see South Africa nurture experts that will run successful companies that produce quantum technologies that address some of the sustainable development goals that were set by the UN,” he says.

  • Completed high school in 2011 at Randfontein High School, where I took dance studies as a subject and received the highest mark in the district.
  • BSc Physics, University of Pretoria, 2011 to 2014
  • BSc Honours in physics (cum laude), University of Pretoria, 2015
  • MSc (cum laude), University of the Witwatersrand, 2016 and 2017
  • PhD Physics, University of the Witwatersrand, 2018 to 2022

  • The youngest lecturer in my department (School of Physics) because I was fortunate to join the faculty as staff immediately once I completed my PhD, with about 25 journal articles and 11 proceedings published in some of the world’s most prestigious journals, that include Nature Photonics, Nature Communications and Science Advances. My PhD adviser (Andrew Forbes) often jokes that I completed three PhDs in one      
  • During the pandemic (2020), I was listed among the top publishers in the science faculty in a list that mostly included professors from the faculty of science. This is thanks to working in one of the most productive research groups (Structured Light Lab) in the country   
  • Received the award to attend the Global Young Scientists Summit in Singapore, in January 2023, where many young scientists from around the world, were given the chance to attend seminars given by distinguished scientists and Nobel laureates.
  • Developed a new method for imaging through transparent objects with quantum light, published in Optica and made international news, 2023. 
  • Unveiled a new way of showing that light can be impervious to distortions thanks to some insight from quantum mechanics — an obvious but not immediate result. Published in Nature Photonics and made international news, 2022.        
  • Invented a technique to characterise higher dimensional quantum states of light. Published in Nature Communication and made international news, 2021. 
  • Contributed to research that set a record for the amount participants and information that could be distributed with quantum light. Published in Laser Photonics Reviews, 2020. 
  • Demonstrated a new technique for transporting quantum light through fibres that would otherwise not send more than two kinds of modes. Published in Scientific Advances, 2020. 
  • Contributed to five review and tutorial articles that are aimed at forecasting trends and providing a starting point for researchers in our field 2018 to 2023. 
  • Awarded the Emerging Leader Award (R1 million) from the South African Quantum Initiative, 2023. 
  • Received a competitive grant (R600 000) from the DSI so that I can advance my research in developing quantum technologies, 2023. 
  • Awarded the SPIE Educational Scholarship during my PhD, an international bursary that is awarded to students around the world who show the potential to demonstrate long-term contributions in optics and photonics, 2021 
  • Won several best oral and poster presentation prizes locally and internationally at conferences for presenting some of my scientific outputs. Won a prize every year from 2018 to 2021

While in grade 7 I wrote a general knowledge test on astronomy and astrophysics, at Randfontein Primary School. I still cannot explain how that led to me, and three other students (Nikiwe Felita, Urisha Maharaj, and Kaitlin Clarence), representing the district at the SAAO and Hatrao National Astronomy quiz that (at some point) earned our school a telescope. After that, I realised I needed to be a scientist and that it was my purpose in life.

Remain disciplined? Stay true to yourself and follow your passion. Success waits on the other side of the learning curves (steep hills) you must climb. Last, once you have learned all that you can, start breaking the rules because herein lives creativity, a spark of genius, and new territories to explore.

Become a hub for knowledge and technology development in the world. Seeing South Africa nurture experts who will run successful companies that produce quantum technologies that address some of the sustainable development goals that were set by the UN.

View previous winners from 2018 to 2022

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