Senior Shimhanda - Master of Environmental Engineering

Brief: Selected to attend the Big Data in Astronomy conference in Mauritius (August 2017)

What is “Big Data in Astronomy” and how will it benefit you as an individual and the NUST community? Constant social innovation means planet Earth will soon experience a tsunami of Big Data and data driven innovation. Generation of tons of data is further escalated by the fact that the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project to be built in South Africa and Australia is estimated to collect and process vast amounts of data and will stimulate cutting-edge advances in high-performance computing. The Big Data concept has been put into practice to help solve social problems. However, small emerging countries in this field are always struggling. Big Data in Astronomy: A Potential Tool For Social Innovation (BAriSta) is Joint Exchange Development Initiative (JEDI) resident type workshop aiming to contribute towards the Human Capacity Development. The workshop focuses on the education and civil society sectors in the discussion of social innovation. The workshop looks at novel methods for educating University learners about Big Data in Astronomy through an innovative pedagogical Education and Public Outreach (EPO) and how they can apply their skills to help society.

How did you get to know about the conference and how were you selected to attend? I got to know the conference through the Radio Astronomy Training for Development in Africa (DARA): a project to build an African Very Long Baseline Interferometric (VLBI) network, partly by converting redundant satellite Earth-station antennas across Africa to use for radio astronomy. Undergraduates, graduate students and early researchers from SKA Africa partner countries like Mauritius, Namibia, Kenya, Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique, Ghana and the rest of the world were encouraged to apply. I got selected by simply submitting a competitive proposal complemented by a top-class recommendation letter from my supervisor.

Kindly share with us how NUST have prepared you for this big opportunity? The BArIStA workshop is centered on Advanced Linux and Python and the BEng. Electronics and Telecommunication program at NUST has fundamentally introduced me to Linux/Unix and Applied Programming in various high level coding languages such as Python, JAVA, C and MATLAB. Hence, I do not expect much technical difficulties.

How would you inspire the young generation to pursue their studies in the field of Astronomy? Africa is currently predominantly synonymous with poverty but in the near future it will be strongly synonymous with Radio Astronomy and Space Engineering. Astronomy is the future and hope of our beloved Continent. The SKA Radio Astronomy Initiative is a mega-science project, which will stretch the limits of engineering and scientific endeavour over the coming decades. Be unorthodox and become part and parcel of the fabric of this manmade Big Bang.

As a researcher, what are your expectations and how will you use the knowledge gained to better our country? This opportunity will capacitate a Namibian with the most sought-after, almost clandestine technical knowhow to solve social problems. I will become knowledgeable about Advanced Linux and Python, Big Data and Machine Learning, Radio Frequency Interference (RFI), Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), Social Media Data analysis, Business analytics using Big Data for Development, Exploring Hospital Quality, Advancing the Development of Astronomy and Communicating Research. How I will apply the knowledge and expertise is an entire business plan on its own.

What are your plans for the near future? It is pointless to have future plans when God already has a master plan for you. Hence, my plan is to simply recognize this divine master plan from above and actualize it accordingly. Cannot say more!

Share with us your success quote! “Success is a progressive realization of a worthy ideal: a counter-intuitive persistent process and not an overnight win-the-lottery-like event”