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Universities take the lead in science research


Wits will lead a consortium to establish a national e-science teaching and training platform.
The platform is intended to develop suitable curricula and pedagogic interventions to advance the training of postgraduate students in the rapidly developing cross-discipline of e-science.
The Department of Science and Technology (DST) made the announcement this week, saying it has awarded Wits with one of two projects as part of the department and its entity, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), continued investment in growing the country’s cyberinfrastructure by furthering the implementation of the National Integrated Cyberinfrastructure System (NICIS).
According to a DST statement, the department will invest approximately R60 million over three years to establish the two projects: the national e-science teaching and training platform; and the regional data centre.
The other consortium, led by the University of Cape Town, involves the establishment of an initial regional data centre (or node) – others could follow – that will eventually form a national network, supporting a wide range of data-intensive scientific activities as part of NICIS.
The consortium includes the University of the Western Cape, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Stellenbosch University, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) South Africa project, and the new Sol Plaatjie University in the Northern Cape, close to the location of the MeerKAT telescope and the site for the SKA.
This consortium will establish and operate a data-centric high-performance computing facility for data intensive research focused primarily on the high priority research challenges of astronomy (with particular focus on the SKA project) and bioinformatics and related clinical research.
This Data Intensive Research Facility will be a platform for developing innovative approaches to research with big data that will enable South African researchers in astronomy and bioinformatics to compete with the best in the world,” says project lead Professor Russ Taylor, who is an SKA research chair at two of the consortium universities (UCT and UWC) and Director of the new Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy.
This facility will serve as a tier 2 node (regional) of the greater cyberinfrastructure system which will include national infrastructure (tier 1), regional infrastructure (tier 2) and institutional infrastructure (tier 3). All three tiers are proposed to be integrated to develop national capacity for the management of big data in major scientific projects.
“The Western Cape Data Intensive Research Facility is the first regional data node in the national integrated cyberinfrastructure proposed by the Department of Science and Technology,” says Dr Dale Peters, interim director of UCT eResearch.
“The award will leverage the considerable investment made by UCT in data centre capacity and eResearch expertise towards the establishment of a regional consortium that will drive the transition of research practice and develop support services for data intensive research.”
The consortium will – in collaboration with South African academic, government and private sector and international collaborators and partners – undertake technical research and development programmes for:
* Development of precursor global SKA SA regional science and data centres;
* Development of a prototype African Data Intensive Research Cloud technologies;
* Portals and software platforms and tools for research and analytics on big data;
* Systems and solutions for research data management and open access; and
* Federation of the tier 2 facility with tier 3 infrastructures at collaborating institutions and with tier 1 national services and infrastructure within the Data Intensive Research Initiative of South Africa (DIRISA).
“The University of Cape Town is an international leader in the field of astronomy and bioinformatics. However, both fields are severely challenged by an onslaught of data from new sensor technologies,” says Professor Danie Visser, deputy vice-chancellor for Research and Internationalisation at UCT.
He adds: “During the course of this year, the MeerKAT telescope will begin to produce data sets that must be processed and mined for science. In bioinformatics, the growth of data from rapidly advancing gene-sequencing technologies drives a similar data problem. A data intensive research facility designed and operated by a team of researchers and eResearch specialists is essential to enable discovery in this new era of research.”
Currently, NICIS consists of the Centre for High Performance Computing, the South African National Research Network and the Data Intensive Research Initiative of South Africa (DIRISA). These are all managed by the CSIR Meraka Institute.