The Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy (IDIA) has launched a new visualisation facility at the University of Cape Town: a shared space where astronomers from around the country can explore their data – and find answers to some of the biggest questions about our universe.
As a partner in the African Research Cloud (ARC) and the Inter-University Institute for Data-Intensive Astronomy (IDIA), UCT is home to some powerful computing facilities. These facilities, which allow researchers to work with enormous sets of data, are helping us to prepare for the era of big-data science.
When Associate Professor Adam West from the Department of Biological Sciences began using drones to collect data from his fynbos study plots, he was confronted by a big-data problem. The customised drones were efficient and collected data easily, but they collected a lot of it – more than could be processed timeously by his laboratory’s computers.
Demand for skills at the interface between technology and information is growing and demand already far exceeds supply. This is particularly the case in Africa. To respond to demand, UCT launched two new postgraduate programmes to foster a generation equipped with the skills to meet this need.
In 2016, South Africa saw its highest number of road deaths in 10 years. Just over 14 000 people died on South Africa’s roads that year, according to the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA). In 2015, that number stood at just under 13 000 – also unacceptably high. To address this crisis, researchers and policymakers need to understand the behaviour of road users, including driver behaviour. Interdisciplinary research to understand the behaviour of drivers is in the pipeline at UCT, thanks to a connection made by UCT eResearch between researchers from two different campuses, and two entirely different fields of research: psychiatry and engineering.
As part of the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) project, researchers at UCT are investigating the microorganisms that live in the nasal passageways and throats of children. They are interested in these microbial communities because they have an influence on the likelihood of a child developing pneumonia and wheezing illness, a disease that is a precursor to asthma.
When Professor Stefan Barth – Department of Science and Technology/ National Research Foundation South African Research Chair in Cancer Biotechnology – moved his laboratory to UCT from Germany two years ago, he envisioned a place where the knowledge shared between himself and his laboratory members would be contained in a secure, persistent digital repository.
UCT is home to myriad facilities, instruments, software packages and services, ranging from electron microscopes to high-performance computing facilities that are used by a range of researchers across disciplines and institutions. The trouble is that these resources are expensive to buy and to maintain.
The world is wholly underprepared for the big-data challenges presented by the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) – the largest radio telescope ever built. This is because we have never seen data volumes on this scale before. By the time the SKA comes online in 2020, the scientific community needs to be ready with the necessary hardware and software so that the data can be put to good use immediately. UCT eResearch has been helping with two specific challenges: delivering the data sets to researchers around the world, and working to enable visualisation of the data.
Advancements in information and digital technologies offer both a challenge and an opportunity to researchers, as they begin to collect and mine data on a scale never previously imagined. As the rate of data collection, the volume of data and the complexity of analysis increase, at the same time research enterprises are becoming more global. Large, data-intensive research groups now tend to be made up of researchers from around the world, all of whom need access to the same data sets and software systems. To stay globally competitive, research institutions must work together to meet the needs of this rapidly changing era.
The next round of carpentry instructor training, funded through the Department of Higher Education and Training's Rural Campus Connectivity Project II grant, is for people who are already using tools such as R, Python, Shell, Git, Matlab.
A multinational delegation recently attended the Understanding Risk in Shared CyberEcosystems workshop, or URISC@SC17, in Denver, Colorado. URISC participants and presenters from 11 countries, including eight African nations, 12 U.S. states, Canada, India and Nepal, also attended SC17, the annual international conference for high performance computing (HPC), networking, storage and analysis that drew nearly 13,000 attendees. Von Welch (Indiana University), who directs the Center for Trustworthy Scientific Cyberinfrastructure, provided expert oversight for the URISC program. Welch invited nine specialists who presented open-source tools and cybersecurity best practices.