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Centre For Mathematical And Computational Sciences

The Centre for Mathematical and Computational Sciences (CMACS) was established by the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, as a direct response to the report “Review of Mathematical Sciences Research at South African Higher Education Institutions” of the International Review Panel Committee constituted by the National Research Foundation. The most significant recommendation of the report was for South Africa to invest in a National Centre of the Mathematical Sciences that would serve the South African mathematical community at all South African universities.  The Panel found evidence of world-class research conducted by South African mathematicians in pure and applied mathematics, statistics, mathematics education and (theoretical) computer science. It also identified issues that need to be addressed at the systemic level: the academic, intellectual and geographic isolation of South African mathematics research from international centres of research. It also highlighted the under-representation or absence of some contemporary and mainstream sub-fields and disconnection of the research conducted from areas of contemporary interest.  The Centre is currently run by Founding Director, Dr Loyiso Nongxa.

The VISION of the Centre is a diverse South African mathematical community: diverse in terms of spectrum of mathematical areas covered, diversity of ideas and mathematical tools machinery and tools deployed and the range of research questions pursued, from fundamental questions and new theories to diversity of applications.  

The MISSION of the Centre is to address the academic and intellectual isolation of South African mathematical sciences and to help produce graduates with breadth and depth of knowledge of contemporary developments in the mathematical sciences and with advanced quantitative skills that will enable them to contribute to the advancement of new knowledge and to make meaningful contribution in academia, public and private sectors and non-governmental organisations.

OBJECTIVES:

Research in the mathematical sciences is a key element for the advancement of all areas of science and technology, as well as being a vital area of science in its own right. The aim is to sustain core research capability while promoting transformative and cross disciplinary research all of which has the potential for significant impact. A core philosophy underpinning the execution of the objectives is to accentuate the features that unite the mathematical sciences and put less emphasis on those that divide them. Therefore CMACS will seek to:

1. Promote and champion the unity of the Mathematical Sciences: Pure, Applied, Theoretical Computer Science, Statistics and Mathematics Education;

2. Strengthen the pipeline of future talent through PhD training and targeted support for individuals;

3. Improve the quality and competitiveness of doctoral training and career development in mathematics;

4. Encourage the development of improved connections with other disciplines in the natural sciences, engineering, humanities and social sciences;

5. Encourage connections with Industry and other users of the mathematical sciences to ensure that the significance and relevance of the mathematical sciences is recognised and exploited widely;

6. Focus on initiatives to enhance the contribution of advanced and novel mathematical sciences to the National Research and Development Strategy, the 10-year Innovation Plan and the Five Grand Challenges of the Department of Science and Technology;

7. Identify and develop areas of the mathematical sciences that are strategically important and may either be vulnerable (for example Statistics) or under-represented in the national mathematical sciences research landscape;

8. Encourage connections between subfields of the mathematical sciences that have a critical mass that could possibly lead to new areas of research and exploit new emerging opportunities.

PROGRAMMES:

The Centre will not employ academic and research staff of its own and aims to leverage existing expertise both locally and internationally to meet its stated objectives. Locally, the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation has made an investment in the Mathematical and Statistical Sciences by funding the creation of the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Sciences (CoE-MaSS). This is a consortium of 14 partner nodes and is hosted by the University of the Witwatersrand.  The CoE-MaSS has identified 8 themes which represent areas of existing strength amongst the partner universities. The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) has been in existence for more than a decade and has established a reputation and partnerships both locally and internationally. These will be amongst the partners of CMACS in giving effect to its objectives through the following programmes:

1. Doctoral Training Centre for Mathematical and Statistical Sciences: The CMACS will champion the establishment of a Doctoral Training Centre for Mathematical and Statistical Sciences which will adopt the model of the Taught Course Centres funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Council in the United Kingdom. The main objective is to coordinate  and facilitate the pooling of existing expertise at various South African universities in order to provide a high quality and broad training for students pursuing postgraduate studies in different disciplines of mathematical sciences. There is a dire need for the creation of such an entity in order to address the impending crisis that will be faced by (academic) statistics in South Africa.

2. New and Future Directions in Mathematics: The CMACS will mobilise resources to host workshops that will be organised around emerging and rapidly developing areas of interest, specialised topics that are of interest to the mathematical sciences research community and contemporary themes that are either under-represented or absent on the mathematical sciences research landscape in South Africa.

3. Bridging the Gap between Academia, Industry and Public Sectors: The annual programme “Mathematics in Industry” has been in existence for more than a decade. It offers an opportunity for further growth. There are two areas that are being considered that would fall under a niche area identified for CMACS, namely Computational, Mathematical and Statistical Foundations of Data Sciences. The first is Business/Data Analytics and the second is the development of a Cyber-infrastructure workforce.  The Department of Science and Technology has invested close to R2 billion in a National Cyber-infrastructure System and the challenge is to increase the numbers of researchers whose work would be enhanced through the use of the cyber-infrastructure tools and methodologies.

4. Next Generation of (South) African mathematicians: One of the observations highlighted in the Review Report is the fact that high quality mathematical sciences research in South Africa is conducted by a small base of academics who are mainly in the 55+ age group. The NRF-funded programme like the Thuthuka programme is targeted at the next generation of South African academics. There is a need to address the possible academic and intellectual isolation of young researchers by creating opportunities for them to be members of international research networks and participate in activities which will enable them to be at the cutting edge of developments globally. There is a growing number of students from other African countries completing their PhDs at South African universities. A Pan-African programme aimed at empowering those that move into academia to build research careers and be networked is a natural extension of Pan-African mandate of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences.

5. International Visitors Programme: The success in implementing some of the objectives of the CMACS depends on the ability to attract foreign distinguished mathematicians for short-to-medium term visits. The purpose would be to offer advanced and contemporary topics in the mathematical sciences to graduate students and early career academics. Introducing new areas of study which are absent in the mathematical sciences research landscape also depends on a successful and vibrant international visitors programme. Various strategies will be pursued which will involve partnerships with international universities and Research Institutes and leverage support through exchange programmes funded by organisations like the British Council, Royal Society, National Science Foundation, Fulbright Programme, DAAD, etc.

6. Mathematical Talent Identification and Development: The CMACS aims to partner with organisations that have been involved in Mathematical Talent Identification and Development in order to broaden the academic talent pipeline and increase the number of talented students who will pursue careers that depend on high level quantitative skills. There is a dire need to unearth talent in marginalised communities and provide the students with the support and encouragement and mentorship required to realise their full potential. The University of the Witwatersrand has run a highly successful Targeting Talent Programme and we envisage partnerships with the South African Mathematics Olympiad to provide opportunities for students who are in the top 10% of those recruited to participate in their training camps.

CMACS will complement the activities of the DST/NRF CoE-MaSS, especially in prioritising those issues identified in the Review Report of Mathematical Sciences research but fall outside the mandate of the CoE. It is envisaged that the programmes of the CoE, CMACS and AIMS will cover the broad spectrum of activities often undertaken by National Institutes. CMACS will lobby for and champion the creation of such a National Institute and if successful, it will cease to exist. 

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