Watch this space and see how the North-West University (NWU) is boldly taking data science in South Africa to the next level. Through a new partnership with two other universities, the NWU will help bolster the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project and strengthen inter-university cooperation.

The main aim of the project is to make South African data science more globally competitive.

Ms Naledi Pandor, Minister of Science and Technology, officially launched the Inter-University Institute for Data-Intensive Astronomy (IDIA) on 3 September at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town.

The IDIA will bring together expertise from the NWU, University of Cape Town and the University of the Western Cape.
The R50 million, five-year partnership will partner researchers in various fields such as computer science, statistics and eResearch technologies. It will create data science capacity that will enhance, among others, the MeerKAT SKA precursor projects and the SKA key science.

The IDIA will address the big data challenge that the SKA poses as it will be instrumental in processing and generating data for the SKA. According to researchers, it would take two million years to play back the data generated in one day by the SKA on an IPod. Data will thus account for much of the total project’s costs, which can run into billions of Euros.

Dr Bernie Fanaroff, director of SKA South Africa, said big data is the new socio-economic industry that will dominate the next few decades. “We do not want to be in a position where we send out data and other countries’ people writes the academic articles. It has to be done here and the Nobel Prizes need to be won here.”

The IDIA will be under the leadership of its founding director, Prof Russ Taylor of the University of Cape Town. Prof Taylor currently holds a joint UCT and University of the Western Cape SKA Research Chair.

Ms Pandor said during the launch that the IDIA’s SKA-driven Data-Intensive and Research and Training Programme is expected to drive innovation in big data solutions that will have an impact beyond astronomy.

* The SKA is considered to be the biggest scientific project in history. It entails the construction of the world’s largest radio telescope, with over one square kilometre of collecting area. It will help astronomers to answer some of the most pressing questions about the origin and evolution of the universe, and the NWU is proud to be part of this.

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