“I’ve always had a fascination with the night sky, but I didn’t initially go to university to become an astrophysicist,” says 26-year-old Dr Kenda Knowles. “In fact, during some stage of my childhood, I wanted to be a forensic scientist or a criminologist.”

Given what she’s achieved in the field so far, it’s probably best she turned her fascination for stars into a career. In 2014, Knowles was one of two PhD students from the University of KwaZulu-Natal who made a pioneering discovery into how we measure the galaxy. “We looked at data for a galaxy cluster and identified almost 200 lensed images in the cluster region.

This was the most ever detected and allowed us to obtain a mass model, which gave us high-precision measurements for the mass of the cluster.” Accolades followed.

In 2015 she was one of the young scientists selected to attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting in Germany. She also scooped up fellowships from the Department of Science and Technology, and the Claude Leon Foundation.

It would be easy to say she’s reached for the stars, but Knowles seems to have moved well beyond them.

Her secret to success?

“It may sound trite, but it all comes down to hard work and pig-headed determination.”