Instrumentation People

The Instrumentation Division consists of astronomers, engineers and technicians, working together to build and support instruments.


The purpose of the Instrumentation Division is the building and support of astronomical instruments, so the astronomers provide a vital link between the scientific and technical sides of what we do!

Amanda Sickafoose is the head of the division. In addition to managing the Division and overseeing the instrumentation building efforts, she has research interests in the study of remote solar system objects.

Nicolas Erasmus (postdoctoral researcher) is a femtosecond laser physicist by training, and is now involved in research on near-Earth asteroids.


Eight people who believe in the bizarre idea that electrons, not smoke, are what make “electronic” gizmos work.  Given that we all know that when the smoke comes out, the “electronic” gizmo generally doesn’t work any more.
So we spend our time thinking of various ways to get the electrons to do useful stuff, like pointing a telescope at a star (telescope control systems), and get the dome opening to follow where the telescope is pointing (Dome control systems).  We also build the control circuits for instruments that mount on the telescopes so the astronomer-types around us can measure the starlight in various ways (mostly without getting up out of their chairs).   There is a lot of fun to be had from making mirrors go in and out, filter wheels go round ‘n round, and a great sense of achievement when a big machine like a telescope does exactly what we want it to do by simply pressing a button. (But you do need to be a bit nerdy to appreciate that….)
Along the way we have learned how to work with vacuum and cryogenic systems – because many light detectors work much better when seriously cold.  We also provide timekeeping information so observing data can be accurately time-stamped.
We have to take care of all the telescopes at Sutherland other than SALT.  There are about 18 of them, so at times we are kept very busy!
Then we get to deal with the fallout when the stuff we make inconveniently decides to stop functioning – occasionally in the middle of the night of “the best observing weather ALL WEEK!”.   We then heroically get out of bed to see what technical wizardry we can muster to keep the astronomers happy.   Usually with a happy ending….
The wizards are:

Hitesh Gajjar (Head of Electronics)
Piet Fourie
Willie Koorts
Pieter Swanevelder
Michael Rust
Reggie Klein
Keegan Titus
Avahapfani Mulaudzi


The engineering group is responsible for the mechanical and optical design of the instruments we build. The group members are:
James O’Connor (Head of Engineering)
Egan Loubser

Mechanical Workshop

These are the people who actually manufacture much of the hardware that makes up the instruments. The shop is equipped with several state of the art measuring, turning and milling machines. Recent acquisitions include the Coordinate Measuring Machine and a 5-axis milling machine. The workshop team’s expertise is recognized and sought after for contract work outside of the SAAO, including by other national facilities such as iThemba Labs and industrial manufacturers.

The team is:
Craig Sass (Head of Workshop)
Malcolm Hendricks
Martin Visser
Mduduzi Nyozakhe

Software Development

Software is at the heart of all the instruments. We have recently developed a new software architecture for instrumentation at the observatory, and are applying it to all new and upgraded instruments.Our full-time software engineers are:

Carel van Gend
Briehan Lombaard.

The graphical user interface for the upgraded Cassegrain spectrograph was developed by David Gilbank, and Steve Potter has developed the telescope control systems on the 74- and 40-inch telescopes.


Many other members of the Observatory contribute significantly to the projects and functioning of the Instrumentation Division. In particular, Hannah Worters (Telescope Operations) has been closely involved in the work of the division, and is currently leading the commissioning of the new 1-metre telescope.