Data Science Workshop

The Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy recently held its inaugural Data Science Workshop in the School of Public Health at the University of the Western Cape on 12-13 April 2016.

The workshop brought together the IDIA partner institutions (University of Pretoria, North West University, University of the Western Cape and the University of Cape Town), astronomical and computing institutions (SAAO, SKA-SA and the CHPC) and partners from industry (IBM, SAC, SAP, SAS and Tracker).

The workshop focused on the technical and scientific challenges that astronomers will face with MeerKAT and the SKA. The large surveys conducted with MeerKAT will produce terabytes of data per day – which will need to be calibrated, imaged, analyzed and cross-referenced with multi-wavelength data. Along with the enormous technical challenge of delivering scientific data comes the opportunity for innovation, skills development and excellence in the new and exciting field of data-intensive astronomy.

Participants presented reviews and invited talks related to the main focus themes: data processing, post-processing, data-mining and multi-wavelength science, visualization and visual analytics, simulations and the exploration of the unknown. The combination of contributed, invited talks and chaired discussions lead to much debate and interaction between participants, which spilled over into the coffee breaks. Participants and groups reiterated their willingness to collaborate and there was a general enthusiasm to contribute to the success of MeerKAT. Additionally, it became clear that the challenge of dealing with MeerKAT and SKA data requires a paradigm shift in our approach to the processing challenges and the prospects of scientific discovery. This will require the development of new tools, the use of cutting-edge technology and partnerships with industry.

Representatives from industry had the opportunity to interact with scientists working on the MeerKAT science programmes. They also presented talks that described the tools, services and enterprise-based solutions that have been developed to deal with data intensive industrial challenges. It became clear that astronomy represents an intriguing and demanding challenge to our industrial partners, and the workshop participants eagerly engaged in discussions and debates about the issues facing the modern astronomer – such as visualization, computing, skills development and innovation.

The success of the workshop was a clear demonstration of the wide reaching impact that MeerKAT and the SKA-SA has had on the South African research community. In particular, the science cases for MeerKAT have become a strong driver for the burgeoning growth of innovation and excellence in the field of high-performance computing. The exciting prospects of the MeerKAT Large Survey Projects has spurred the development of international collaborations and independent, cooperative institutions (such as IDIA) further strengthening the South African research landscape in our drive towards a knowledge-based economy.

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