SA launches new centre for mathematical sciences

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South Africa's push to create a competitive, knowledge-based economy was boosted on Tuesday with the launch of the Centre of Excellence in Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at Wits University in Johannesburg.

The launch brings to 14 the number of such centres established by the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation since 2004.

Four of these, including the new centre, are hosted by Wits. The other three are the Centre in Strong Materials, the Centre in Paleosciences, and the Centre in Biomedical Tuberculosis Research, co-hosted with the universities of Stellenbosch and Cape Town.

The centres are designed to accelerate the delivery of appropriate human resources and knowledge capacity, as well as to enhance the international competitiveness of South African research.

Speaking at Tuesday's launch, Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom said mathematics was "the spinal cord of science, engineering and technology development, and as such it is critical to South Africa's national system of innovation and to our future as a competitive, knowledge-based economy".

Hanekom added that the country's National Development Plan (NDP) placed great importance on improving mathematics education from primary school through university.

The director of the new centre, Professor Fazal Mahomed of the School of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Wits, said the centre "gives us an opportunity to push the forefront of research and open up new areas of research".

According to the university, the centre will focus on earth and environmental sciences, "bringing much-needed specialised attention to what are some of the most pressing issues of our time.

"The centre promises to afford us a better understanding of complex, dynamic systems associated with the earth and environmental sciences, and, perhaps more importantly, a better understanding of how to develop a better understanding of such complex systems".

The university added that the centre would also contribute to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) initiative, "from which we anticipate data analysis challenges unlike anything humankind has seen before.

"It is expected that the volume of data generated by the SKA each day will be of the same order of magnitude as what presently exists throughout the length and breadth of the internet.

"Accumulating an ever larger store of data in the hopes of analysing it later is at best a partial answer; more fundamentally, we need to develop methods that will help to assimilate the information rapidly and efficiently in real time, and we expect to see the new Centre of Excellence in Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at the coalface of this exciting challenge."

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