‘A new era has dawned for the theoretical and computational sciences in South Africa and beyond with the Department of Science and Innovation(DSI) and the National Research Foundation​ (NRF) accepting the application by Stellenbosch University (SU) and its consortium partners to host the SU-led National Institute for Theoretical and Computational Sciences​ (NITheCS).

The consortium comprises 25 South African universities and institutes* which will form five nodes with each node having a head or cluster leader.

The node heads are Prof Will Horowitz (UCT – Western Cape), Prof Joao Rodrigues (Wits – Gauteng); Prof Sunil Maharaj (UKZN – KwaZulu-Natal), Prof Azwinndini Muronga (NMU – Eastern Cape and Free State) and Prof Du Toit Strauss (NWU – Northern region), with Prof Francesco Petruccione (SU) being the Interim Director of NITheCS.

NITheCS serves as a dynamic platform where a multitude of scientific themes converge within a stimulating environment. It is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in a range of disciplines, including Theoretical Physics, Mathematics, Astronomy and Astrophysics, Statistics, Data Science, Quantitative Finance, Bioinformatics and Quantitative Biology, Earth Systems Modelling and Climate Change Modelling. By focusing on these diverse yet interconnected fields, the Institute is uniquely positioned to contribute to the development of cutting-edge research that addresses South Africa’s most pressing economic and social challenges.

A multi-thematic application
Spearheaded by Prof Sibusiso Moyo, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies, with the support of the other Consortium DVCs and her predecessor, Prof Eugene Cloete, the SU consortium submitted a multi-thematic application that underwent a rigorous review process by an independent panel of global experts.

“It is a great honour for Stellenbosch University to host NITheCS. Our university is a national asset that is part of the South African national system of higher education institutions and continues to contribute significantly to both skills training, research and innovation. The University, together with its partners, has great experience hosting some of the country’s leading centres of excellence. We believe that together with our Consortium Partners, we can strengthen our skills base, especially in the basic sciences, and contribute to knowledge production and excellence in research in the fields that NITheCS will focus on. We look forward to playing a continued leadership role in growing the basic sciences in South Africa and Africa.”

“NITheCS welcomes the positive news shared by the DSI/NRF and we are deeply appreciative of the contributions by the 25 partner institutions to put together the consortium application,” says Petruccione, who also coordinated the writing of the 279-page consortium proposal. “Credit must go to Prof Sibusiso Moyo for the strong role that she has played in the successful outcome of this consortium application.”

“An interim phase started in 2020/2021, when the National Institute for Theoretical Physics​ (NITheP) started transforming into NITheCS. Much has already been achieved, but with this news, NITheCS will now be able to even achieve more. The Institute has organised numerous colloquia, mini-schools, seminars, math schools, teacher training sessions, public lectures, mentorship and internship programmes, as well as an NRF-administrated NITheCS bursary programme,” adds Réne Kotzé, manager of the Institute.

Vibrant scientific ecosystem
“NITheCS has been and will continue to address the needs and challenges arising from the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI),” explains Petruccione. “NITheCS embraces an ‘un-disciplinary’ approach by putting the problem at the top and bringing together the expertise from all over South Africa, Africa and the world to solve complicated questions, ensuring impactful and relevant research, driving transformative change and cultivating a vibrant scientific ecosystem.”

NITheCS’ strategic objectives include generating new knowledge in fundamental sciences, supporting high-impact research, establishing student pipelines from undergraduate to postgraduate to postdoc and early career innovation, and addressing socio-economic development through training and research.

Current research programmes include machine learning, genomics and bioinformatics, quantum technologies for sustainable development, computational modelling of materials, biodiversity informatics and ecological modelling, space-like mathematical structures, quantitative finance and climate change modelling.​
*The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), Stellenbosch University (SU), University of Cape Town (UCT), University of the Western Cape (UWC), University of the Witwatersrand (WITS), University of Johannesburg (UJ), University of South Africa (UNISA), University of Pretoria (UP), Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), Vaal University of Technology (VUT), University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Durban University of Technology (DUT), Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT), University of Zululand (UNIZUL), Nelson Mandela University (NMU), Central University of Technology (CUT), Rhodes University (RU), University of Fort Hare (UFH), University of the Free State (UFS), Walter Sisulu University (WSU), North-West University (NWU), University of Limpopo (UL), University of Mpumalanga (UMP) and the University of Venda (UV).’

This news release was first published by Stellenbosch University on 6 September 2023.