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Strand Day 9, AIMS

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Another day in Strand but one mostly not spent there. Even skipping my daily walk at the beach again. The day’s project was to visit the African Institue of Mathematical Sciences, AIMS. As my dad has organised a few weeks of studying for a few students from his department at Stellenbosch, this was part of their visit and I just joined in.

The AIMS is a pretty cool idea that tries to get maths students from all over the continent together. It is supported by a couple of local (Stellenbosch, UCT, …) and foreign (Cambridge, Paris, …) universities and they’ve managed to get a building in Muizenberg, one of the nice beaches at the Indian Ocean. The building isn’t fancy but quite large. And it needs to be as the institute now hosts more than fourty students from all of Africa for living and studying. Along with them there are various tutors, computer labs and so on.

From what we were told, the whole project turned out to be rather tricky just because academic systems and interests are vastly different in all the different countries. While some countries have systems similar to the South African one (which is more or less the British one), quite a bit of Africa is actually French-speaking – a fact that I often forget – and follows the French system. In addition, many countries have more pressing problems than mathematics and thus postgraduate studies in mathematics may just not be available at all.

So the institute takes students from all those different backgrounds and provides them with a year of studies so everyone is able to start a master degree afterwards. The fields they’re interested in are quite applied with a lot of computer science and biology happening there. While that’s not my cup of tea, the students seem to like what is offered and many said they’re looking forward to going back home and using what they learned at the AIMS. And I assume that learning some abstract geometry wouldn’t help too much there whereas what they’re learning now may actually make a real difference once they return home.

In the afternoon there were some talks, including one of the local students talking about her work on some aspects of HIV. That’s a big topic down here as many people are infected and apart from the tragedy there are real economic problems expected to arise from that. (And South Africa is one of the countries where people can actually get medicine, so they’re comparatively well off.) First she introduced some facts about the virus which I hadn’t heard of before – like that there are different strains which are present in different areas of the world. And that some strains attack differently than others. Most importantly, the majority of research on the topic seems to be done with the virus as it is seen in Europe and America, which can be a problem when trying to use medicines on the African strain. – That was just the introduction, though, and there followed a lot of acronyms and modelling which I will not attempt to summarise here.

After returning from the trip, there was just time for dinner. Another quick one at the steak house. I had spare ribs this time, though. While they’re not as good as the steaks (being pork and all), sometimes a large rack of them is just very appealing…

Darn, there’s still winter over in Europe. Hope they’ll get rid of it before I return.

March 10, 2005, 23:56

Tagged as country:za, south africa, travel.

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