Africa’s first big data summer school has been launched in Cape Town as a partnership between the Square Kilometre Array South Africa (SKA SA) research organisation and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).
This intent is to expose students from various academic backgrounds to the fundamentals of big data research by applying their knowledge to practical areas in astronomy, bioinformatics and health sciences; the transfer of knowledge in the area of data science that builds on a multi-disciplinary approach.
“The challenge of managing big data sets is going to become increasingly important as we move into the age of omic and personlised medicine,” says Dr Richard Gordon, executive director of the SAMRC’s grants innovation and product development unit. “We consider the big data summer school as equipping African scientists with technologies that will place them at the forefront of research and data management.”
The proliferation of data across various sectors increases the demand for individuals, in South Africa and globally, who can manipulate, analyse and visualise complex data systems. The school is poised to contribute to creating critical data science skills in all areas of science research and aims to find solutions to the next data challenges facing all research disciplines.
“South Africa can and should play a leading role in the global big data economy, and can and should be a world-leading centre for research and machine learning and cognitive computing,” says Dr Rob Adam, MD of SKA SA. “At SKA SA we believe that the key to becoming a world leader in big data and cognitive computing is to train our best young people in these areas.”
To place the data challenges of the ground-breaking radio telescope in context, it is predicted that data collected by the SKA in a single day would take nearly 2-million years to play back on an iPod.
The SAMRC will feature its precision medicine programme as part of the curriculum. This progressive programme aims to build innovative tools and capabilities to create a precision medicine environment.
“Precision medicine affords us the skill and ability to analyse data across broad spectrums to enhance our understanding of patient health and well-being,” says Professor Glenda Gray president and CEO of the SAMRC. “The accuracy associated with this new approach to prognosis will benefit the South African health care system as it has the potential to expedite health care service delivery.”
The summer school targets undergraduate and master’s degree students who are at an early stage of their research careers. The knowledge and skills acquired will benefit their careers as early career researchers.