African Einstein...implementation has begun

African Einstein...implementation has begun

"Seeking an African Einstein"


Matin Durrani

July 2nd, 2008

A new postgraduate centre for maths and computer science has opened in the Nigerian capital of Abuja as part of an ambitious plan to find the "next Einstein" in Africa. The centre is providing advanced training to graduate students from across Africa in maths and related fields. It wants to attract the best young African scientists and nurture their talents as problem-solvers and teachers.

The new Nigerian centre is modelled on — and has close ties with — the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in Cape Town, South Africa, which was set up in 2003 by the Cambridge University cosmologist Neil Turok. In recognition of the close ties with AIMS, the new centre is called AIMS (Abuja).

The plan is to set up another 15 AIMS-type centres across Africa over the next five years. Each centre will be run as a partnership with AIMS and AIMS (Abuja), plus one or more local universities. The centres will host students from across Africa but focus on particular branches of mathematical science.

New centres are planned for countries including Ghana, Madagascar, Sudan and Uganda — and they will join the African Mathematical Institutes Network (AMI-Net), which was created in 2005.

One wish to change the world

Turok, who was born in South Africa, wants to raise an endowment of $150m, which would allow 50 graduates to be supported at each of the 15 centres over the next five years. He has so far raised $2.7m after giving a talk earlier this year at the annual TED (technology, entertainment and design) conference in California, where he was one of three people to win a $100 000 TED prize. Each winner is obliged to give a talk that includes their "one wish to change the world", which for Turok was for the next Einstein to come from Africa.

Karl Voltaire, chief executive of AIMS (Abuja), told that the new centre already has 50 students from across the continent and that classes began on Monday. "[Setting up AIMS (Abuja)] has been an exhilarating experience, frustrating at times, but well worth the effort of bringing students from across the continent to a place where they can learn with top faculty from all over the world," he said. "The challenges now include bringing more African women into science and convincing policy-makers across the continent of the importance of developing a scientific elite."

AIMS (Abuja) is based at the African University of Science and Technology (AUST), which also opens this month. Focusing on engineering, materials science, computing as well as petroleum and natural-gas engineering, it has been funded by the World Bank and the Nigerian government. The plan is for AUST to eventually have up to 5000 students.

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