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New school going for big data

- By Reshma Lakha-Singh

Big data is the first major programme to be explored at the new School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics (CSAM), led by Professor Ebrahim Momoniat.

The School will also run programmes that include the data management for the Square Kilometre Array.

In 2015, Wits University decided to combine the School of Computer Science and the Wits School of Computational and Applied Mathematics.

Momoniat has been tasked to lead the new school during its teething phase until January 2016. 

“Wits saw an opportunity to merge two disciplines and develop new teaching programmes at the honours level. This allows us to be at the forefront in South Africa with respect to the future of teaching high level computational expertise combined with advanced mathematics and statistics.  

“The School innovatively now falls into the realm at the interface of computer science and applied mathematics. The first major programme is in big data which will be run by Professor Turgay Celik,” says a proud Momoniat.

Other courses currently offered at the honours level will have an injection of renewed course content that encompasses either elements of advanced mathematics or computing. 

“We have a highly successful Advanced Mathematics for Finance programme that has been around for years. With the merger, we can bring in more computing into the course content and Computer Science will benefit with an increase in mathematics,” adds Momoniat.

Momoniat indicates that students will be trained to work in areas such as mobile and cloud computing . He adds that the banking and cell phone industries will undoubtedly benefit from the new talent the School will unleash.

Historically the schools have always had a very strong relationship.  “They were merged in the 1980’s and split in the 1990’s only to re-join intellectual forces once again this year. The added advantage is that this offers an opportunity for the hiring of new teaching staff in the combined School.”

Dr Tim Gebbie, senior lecturer at CSAM, also highlights the value of the recent matrimony.

“We are very fortunate at Wits to be working in an environment where a lot of smart people with similar yet different disciplines are brought together to work with each other. I know a very small niche of things very well, and so do each of my colleagues. We are in an environment where no one person can have the mastery of all the tools required,” says Gebbie.

Hence career prospects for the students in this field of study can be exponential.

“The banks have become technology companies. All processes are increasingly automated to work in real time. Intermediaries are increasingly under pressure of being replaced by software systems, both for transparency and risk-management reasons, but also cost. This is putting huge pressure on middlemen who need to reinvent the value-add to end-users. Universities are well positioned to produce the next cohort of individuals who can survive in this technologically advanced world.”

Celik, an Associate Professor in CSAM had the following to say about a new Data Engineering program being started between CSAM and the School of Electrical Engineering: "Data Engineering" is intended to integrate subjects from computer science, data science, physics and electronics to address hardware, software, algorithmic and system level aspects of big data analytics. It is a unique programme, bridging the gap between science and engineering with alternative career options, designed to educate individuals to tackle the challenges of big data analytics.

Gebbie adds:  “Corporates need to help inform academics what they need, in an on-going way, what type of skills they think they need. There is a need for a conversation, where we can inform each other where we think things are headed, to plan and a try anticipate the shortfalls and gaps.”

Both Momoniat and Gebbie jointly attest to the future being exciting yet complex. “Globally Applied Mathematics is the fastest growing of all the domains because it pulls in all the bits and pieces within the mathematical sciences. Therefore we need to be servicing the new global market and CSAM is the South African vanguard.”


About Momoniat

Momoniat completed his doctorate (Applied Mathematics) at Wits in 1999. His research focus is the mathematical modelling of thin film flows.

Thin film flows are important in the industrial process of spin coating. Spin coating is used in the manufacture of CDs and other materials in which it is important to obtain a thin uniform layer of coating on a material.

His particular interest is on investigating numerical and analytical solutions to the non-linear partial differential equations that model these flows. Mathematical modelling is an important tool used to aid our understanding of the behaviour of these thin film flows, especially when trying to isolate and understand the effects of different physical conditions on the flow.

Momoniat is a reciepient of the Friedel Sellschop Award.