Capacity building in Africa via technology-driven research in algebraic and arithmetic geometry

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Mathematical Institute

Abstract

Our proposed project aims to build mathematics research capacity on the African continent by establishing deep, meaningful collaborations between UK mathematicians and emerging Sub-Saharan African scientists and their research groups to tackle a range of problems arising in technological challenges relevant to the African development context. Our approach to these problems will involve the toolkit of abstract mathematics. Our objective is to build up expertise among African partners and their research groups in using theoretical approaches to attack applied problems.

Our capacity building programme is focused around collaborative research in applied algebraic and arithmetic geometry. This is a fast-developing area that aims to apply the sophisticated tools of abstract geometry to the study of systems of polynomial equations arising in applications. The specific research objectives we will tackle come from the areas of power flows, systems biology, robotics and cryptography. All these lines of inquiry can address specific challenges arising in development-related contexts. Controlling and understanding power flow in electrical networks leads to improvements in the robustness and hence the reliability of an electrical system without having to resort to expensive precautionary over-engineering. A better theoretical understanding of signalling pathways connected to specific diseases enables more efficient experimental design, with a high potential for applications in an African context. Theoretical progress in robotics leads to suggestions for better practical design of specific kinematical constructions, that can then be tested in emerging local robotics labs. Cryptography, including more sophisticated versions such as elliptic curve cryptography, allows for efficient protocols for information security, and is widely used in the banking sector including mobile money transfers, an industry in which Africa is a world leader.

On the UK side, our capacity building research programme will be led by a group of Investigators with a track record in high-level research in the fields of algebraic and arithmetic geometry and their applications, and experience of research development in an international context. On the African side, we will work with a core group of African Partners, emerging leaders already known to us and active in research in the fields of algebra and algebraic and arithmetic geometry. We will recruit further African participants via open calls to join our capacity building research programme.

Our proposed project will consist of two phases. In the first phase of the project, two intensive, 10-day workshops will be held in East and West Africa, respectively. In the second phase of the project, we will host about African scientists in the UK for visits to the UK, whereas Investigators will visit African partner departments.

Our capacity building programme will allow African mathematicians to find the time and focus to embark on research in specific development-related areas, which are mostly novel for them. Via the impact on their research groups, this will lead to a sustainable increase in local expertise in these lines of inquiry. We will thus build crucial research capacity able to tackle challenges relevant in the context of development.

Planned Impact

Our project will build research capacity via a collaborative research programme between UK and African scientists and their groups, to work on questions arising from specific developmental challenges related to power flows, systems biology, robotics and cryptography. Our African partners and their research groups will also gain crucial expertise in the use of computer algebra packages in applied research, as well as the coordination of joint research projects and workshops.

The project will allow our collaborators, often under a lot of pressure in their home departments, to focus on research, including the acquiring of new research skills, during the workshops and academic visits. The resulting joint publications will enhance the career prospects of our collaborators, allowing them to move into more senior academic positions. They will also be able to offer applied projects to Masters and PhD students in their own departments, leading to a long-term and sustainable increase in research capacity in these areas.

We will aim to build links to local companies working in specific sectors related to our research objectives during the project. Our long-term goal is to build up a community of young mathematical scientists on the African continent who contribute to the local science base by engaging with technologically relevant projects with industrial partners.

Our project will allow members of the UK algebraic geometry community to engage in collaborative research addressing international development challenges, in the context of specific research objectives. Via the participation of younger researchers (PhD students and postdocs) in our workshops, and via UK-based research groups meeting the African visitors, the next generation of UK mathematicians will also get a taste of this work, making them aware of the global development landscape.

Publications

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