Canadian connection to quest for African Einstein producing a deluge of beautiful minds thanks to Ottawa

OTTAWA, Nov. 7, 2013 /CNW/ - After 10 years of searching for an African Einstein, the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, or AIMS, hasn't found him or her yet. However, with Canada's help, it has produced an impressive array of more than 500 graduates from 40 African nations with more than 30 per cent of the graduates being women.

In the presence of His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of CanadaAIMS chairman and founder Prof. Neil Turok and executive director Thierry Zomahoun celebrated some of these alumni at an event Nov. 6 at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier hosted by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

AIMS and IDRC are also holding a panel discussion at the IDRC on Nov. 7.

"We are proud of what we've accomplished," says Neil Turok, AIMS founder and director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario. "We have produced 233 Masters and 55 PhDs including the first maths PhD from the Central African Republic and more than 400 published papers in academic and research journals."

The effort is timely as economies in Africa have been experiencing phenomenal growth in the first decade of this century. The Economist reported in 2011 that six (Angola, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Chad, Mozambique and Rwanda) of nine of the world's fastest growing economies were in Africa. These countries had seen economic growth rates between 7.6 to 11.1 per cent and these high growth rates are predicted to continue until 2015. The demand is exploding for a generation of youth that apply science and math to ensure rapid and stable social and political development.

Only six per cent of post-secondary aged Africans are enrolled in apprenticeships, colleges or universities, compared to the global average of 26 per cent (UNESCO Institute of Statistics, Montreal, 2010). In Europe and North America the enrollment ratio is as high as 80 per cent. In Canada, the enrollment ratio is about 75 per cent of post-secondary aged Canadians (World Bank 2011). The AIMS-Next Einstein Initiative (AIMS-NEI) is playing a major part in closing this gap in Africa, by opening centres of excellence for training, research and outreach in South Africa, Senegal, Ghana, Cameroon and Tanzania. The plan is to create a network of 15 centres across Africa graduating thousands of mathematical sciences experts - half will be women - annually by the year 2021.

Turok, a South African-born physicist known for his work in cosmology, developing and testing theories of the big bang, founded AIMS in 2003. He believes that building capacity in mathematical science is one of the smartest ways to contribute to Africa's development, by investing directly in talented young people, in an efficient, transparent and highly cost-effective way.

"Our concept is simple. We bring together top global minds in math and science to teach and research with Africa's brightest students," says Thierry Zomahoun, executive director of AIMS-NEI, McGill University graduate and former executive with a Canadian-based international development organization. "Our graduates then use these skills to tackle the problems ranging from, disease and famine, to environmental degradation, illiteracy and poverty. AIMS graduates have a broad-based training and are talented problem solvers and innovators."

AIMS's success has made governments and key technology businesses take notice. The Canadian Government  made a major investment of CDN$20 million in 2010. The United Kingdom and Germany have also invested in the project. Twenty-six universities from Canada, Europe, Asia and Africa are participating, including the Universities of Ottawa, Guelph, Waterloo, British Columbia, Simon Fraser and Victoria. Technology and publishing companies like BlackBerry, Google USA and Cambridge University Press have also made significant contributions.

"We are grateful for the support we are receiving from governments in Africa and abroad," Turok says. "Canada's contribution was seminal and we are now seeing the impact with our graduates taking on leadership roles building Africa's self-sufficiency in education, research and industry."

Why focus on mathematical sciences? Because mathematics underlies every modern technology from plumbing to electricity, smartphones to satellites. Its applications range from modelling and planning for economics, communications, transport, energy and health. Yet, it is also completely cross-cultural and free to share. Mathematical science is the foundation for development. Many AIMS graduates have gone on to leading positions in civil institutions and NGOs, as well as in universities, research centres and companies across Africa.

The below alumni, along with Neil and Thierry, will participate in a panel discussion on the program to be moderated by journalist Paul Wells from Maclean's magazine from 3 to 5 p.m, 150 Kent Street (Corner of Albert), 8th floor.

Martial Loth Ndeffo Mbah, PhD, Associate Research Scientist, Yale School of Public Health

Marvellous Onuma-Kalu, Master's degree candidate in Physics, University of Waterloo

Nosiphiwo Zwane, PhD candidate in Physics, Perimeter Institute, University of Waterloo

Richard Junganiko Munthali, AIMS alumnus and intern at Communitech in Waterloo

Felix Oghenekohwo, PhD candidate in Applied Geophysics, University of British Columbia

Unable to attend, watch here (Nov. 7, 3 to 5 p.m):

About AIMS and the Next Einstein Initiative
The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) is a pan-African network of centers of excellence for post graduate education, research and outreach in mathematical sciences. Its mission is to enable Africa's brightest students to flourish as independent thinkers, problem solvers and innovators capable of propelling Africa's future scientific, educational and economic self-sufficiency.  AIMS was founded in 2003 and has produced more than 500 graduates, about one third of whom are women. The goal of the Next Einstein Initiative is to build 15 centres of excellence across Africa by 2021.Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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SOURCE: African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS)

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Steven Williams | Cel: 416-655-8384 | |
twitter: @stevenwilliams1

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