September 2, 2011, Mbour, Senegal – Mathematics underpins science, technology and modern society – from cell phones to computers and satellites. On September 6, 2011, the Government of Senegal led by His Excellency President Abdoulaye Wade and international partners will open a new pan-African centre of excellence for Africa's brightest math and science graduates, in a beautiful seaside location in Mbour, 80 km south of Dakar.
AIMS-Senegal is the second centre in the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) network, joining AIMS-South Africa, which has operated in Cape Town since 2003. The plan to expand AIMS across Africa is known as the AIMS-Next Einstein Initiative (AIMS-NEI). The goal is to rapidly and cost-effectively expand Africa's scientific and technological capacity by providing advanced training to exceptional African students and enabling them to work effectively for the peaceful prosperity of the continent.
AIMS-NEI grew out of a wish first expressed by AIMS founder Professor Neil Turok, now Director of Canada's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, that "the next Einstein be African." That wish has evolved into a plan to create a pan-African network of 15 AIMS centres over the next decade. AIMS-NEI is supported through public and private funding, including a $20 million investment from the Government of Canada, provided through the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The Government of France is also a major partner in AIMS-Senegal, providing land for the current and future AIMS-Senegal facilities through the Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD).
The first AIMS centre, in Cape Town, has graduated 360 students from 32 African countries to date, of whom one-third are women. AIMS has become globally recognized as a centre of excellence for postgraduate education and research.
At the September 6 grand opening celebrations, AIMS-Senegal's first 36 students (selected from over 350 applicants to both centres), from 14 countries, will be joined by the President of Senegal and dignitaries from approximately 15 countries to recognize the centre's many supporters and partnering academic institutions. These include the Universities of Cheikh Anta Diop, Gaston Berger, Thies and Ziguinchor in Senegal, the University of Ottawa in Canada, Universities Pierre et Marie Curie and Paris Sud in France, Humboldt University of Berlin in Germany, and the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in China.
"Were it not for AIMS, I think I would have stopped studying. Now I have opportunities I never imagined," says Alexia Nomenjanahary, a Madagascan alumna of AIMS-South Africa, whose work in mathematical biology earned her a scholarship to attend a summer school at the University of Oxford. Alexia will soon join AIMS-Senegal as a teaching assistant to share her talents and help others realize their potential.
Tidiane Ba, Minister of Higher Education and Research of Senegal says, "AIMS-Senegal will enable our most talented students, Senegalese and from across the continent, to receive a fully-funded world-class education here in Senegal. We are proud of AIMS-Senegal and support it strongly."
"The opening of our second centre, AIMS-Senegal, is a major milestone towards our dream of a truly pan-African network of scientific centres where the continent's bright minds can shine," says Neil Turok. "As AIMS expands, thousands of talented Africans will acquire the skills they need to build Africa's future economic, educational and technological self-sufficiency."
"Africa's future lies in developing the minds of its brilliant young people," says Rohinton Medhora, Vice-President of Programs at IDRC. "AIMS is a catalyst for that future and I am delighted to see it expand with the opening of AIMS-Senegal. This groundbreaking initiative complements IDRC's longstanding support of outstanding scholars in developing countries and its tradition of fostering development through innovation, science, and technology."
"AIMS-Senegal symbolizes what IRD aims to implement: excellence in teaching and innovative research in a high-quality environment with engaged national and international partners," says Michel Laurent, President of IRD. "All these conditions must be present to enable the emergence of teachers, researchers and the leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow."
The AIMS-Next Einstein Initiative was launched in 2008 to build a critical mass of scientific and technical talent across Africa, capable of driving progress across the continent. AIMS-NEI grew out of the success of the AIMS-South Africa centre. Every year, about 55 talented students from all across Africa graduate from AIMS centres, following a ten-month course, with the vast majority continuing to Masters and PhD degrees. All AIMS students benefit from full scholarships.
A key part of Canada's aid program since 1970, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) supports research in developing countries to promote inclusive growth and development. IDRC also encourages sharing this knowledge with policymakers, other researchers, and communities around the world. The result is innovative, lasting local solutions that aim to bring choice and change to those who need it most.
The Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD), led its President Michel Laurent, is a French public research institution with the mission of developing scientific projects focused on the relationship between humans and their environment, especially in tropical regions. IRD's research covers a wide spectrum of topics related to developing countries. In Senegal, IRD's work is carried out at three major sites: the ISRA-IRD joint centre at Dakar-Bel Air, the International UCAD-IRD Campus at Dakar-Hann and at CIREM in Mbour where AIMS-Senegal is also located.
Growing Support for AIMS-NEI
To further its ambitious mandate and innovative teaching methods, AIMS-NEI has so far earned support from the Government of Senegal (US$1.4 million for the establishment of AIMS-Senegal plus the donation of a seaside parcel of land), the Government of Ghana (US$1.5 million for the creation of AIMS-Ghana), Google (US$2 million), the Kavelman-Fonn Foundation (US$600,000 for AIMS-Senegal), the Government of France (land for AIMS-Senegal valued at US$1.3 million), and the Government of Canada (US$20.5 million, channelled through Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC), to support the growth of the network). AIMS-NEI is also supported by a growing number of North American and European universities and companies through its One-for-Many scholarship program.