The South Pacific island kingdom of Tonga is renowned for its beautiful beaches, but accelerator operator Viliami Takau has another reason for visiting the island: he lectures students in fundamental physics.

A naturalised Australian with Tongan heritage, Viliami was born, raised and educated to high school level in Tonga before moving to Australia for further studies. He attended the University of Melbourne and graduated with a PhD in nuclear physics in December 2009 before joining the accelerator science and operations group at the Australian Synchrotron.

Four times a year, Viliami travels to Tonga to present lectures to 18 first-year students at the community-based Lavengamalie Christian University. During each visit he gives six to eight lectures, tutorial sessions and practical classes in an intensive week of presentations.tonga100_3706web.jpg

“Giving something back to the community is always a rewarding experience in itself,” Viliami told Lightspeed. “The ultimate reward, however, is knowing that my investment, in time and monetary terms, may help to inspire some local students to go on and do great things. Hopefully by simply being there I may instil my passion for science, physics in particular, into the students.”

The first Tongan to gain a PhD in physics, Viliami says Tonga probably has the Pacific’s highest number of PhDs per head of population. 


Australian Synchrotron accelerator operator Viliami Takau (third from right) discusses fundamental physics with Tongan university students.