The First Scientific Computing Academy
Date and time: 
Tue, 2016-06-14 11:43

Training in Computing for Academia, Government, Industry and the Corporate World- Department of Physics, University of Nairobi

The 2016 scientific computing academy (held at the University of Nairobi, Kenya) from June 6th  to 10th  was officially opened by the Principal College of Biological and Physical Sciences (CBPS), Prof B. O. Aduda, who challenged the participants to take full advantage of the new initiative by the College to acquire much needed skills in scientific computing that lie at the interface of many disciplines: from arts to sciences. The first academy witnessed a selection of only a total of thirty five participants from the over sixty equally good applications. The participants were drawn from academia, industry, government and the private sector, and surprisingly comprised of participants from the arts discipline.

During the first day, a crash introduction course to Linux was made by Mr. David Karibe, a senior technologist at the department of physics and a Linux enthusiast. David took the participants through the basics of the Linux OS including: how to use the Linux terminal commands, the processes that run in the background such as sshd, inetd, bash; and the softwares that give a web server- the Apache, PHP and mySQL. He also introduced participants to the Linux shell that interprets commands and requests from kernel, as well as took them through the process of installing Linux on their laptop computers..

In the afternoon, Dr. Okeng'o from the department of Physics introduced participants to functional plotting, data visualization and plotting with the freely available Gnuplot open source programme. The participants went through tutorials of plotting 2D and 3D functions in Gnuplot, plotting and customizing plots of data in gnuplot amongst other things.

On the second day, Prof Catherine Cress from the Center for High Performance Computing (CHPC) in Cape Town, South Africa provided a crash introduction to Python programming, assisted by Dr. Sean February from CHPC.  Prof. Cress introduced among other things: writing conditional statement such as the while and if statements in Python, as well as loops. The participants were then given a tutorial to work individually and then later in groups for verification.

On the third day, participants were introduced to numerical methods for scientists by Prof Cress and Dr. February in the morning, followed by tutorials in the afternoon.

The fourth day saw participants introduced the science of data mining using Python. They were advised to come with different sets of data while those who didn't have specific data used data on patients with arthritis provided by Prof. Cress to for

analysis. Participants worked in groups and were able to load the data into the memory using the numpy package and carried out the required analysis in addition to finding the the mean of a given information, the standard deviation, the mid value, the maximum and minimum value. The participants then made various plots of their data thus enabling them to visualize on how to apply the skills learned in my proposal writing, research as well as industry.

On the last day, Dr. February began by giving an overview of how one could use python to estimate the value of pi. This was followed by an introduction to high performance computing by Dr February and Prof Cress. The participants were taught on how to log in remotely to a Linux server e.g. at the CHPC, how to check online users as well the job submission process.

The first computing academy was officially closed by the Principal CBPS, represented by the acting dean School of Physical Sciences Dr Opere and the acting chairman Dr Collins Mito.

Here below is what one of the participants Ms Jane Achieng- who works in the library and is currently pursuing her masters degree at the University of Nairobi had to say about the training:

This one week training has been of great benefit to me. My expectations in the training were exceeded. My interest was captured by certain key words that attracted me to this course was the various modules that was being offered. For my case, I       was particularly interested in data mining and the tools that would be relevant for it. I was also interested in knowing how to use Linux, having had some basic introduction and I also wanted to learn python as well as other plotting and chart programs.

The reason for this is because I am an independent researcher and I do a lot of analysis on Library materials and holdings.

I must say that I was able to gain much more than what I expected. I am able to sharpen my skills not only in coding but also in the application of the softwares that we were introduced to. With more practice one should be able to get to where they want to be. By sharing what other people are doing and what other people wanted to achieve, broadened my perception of how wide these tools can be used. In particular, we were sharing with someone from the linguistic department and one can straight away see that this training met the needs of professionals across the divide. It was interesting to see the various ways in which these applications are used in real life. This came true when we looked at one of the students work in the health sector. It was not about hard sciences but also the social scientists that also were able to benefit.

The training was intense and those who attended were highly self motivated individuals. They never wanted to leave the laboratory even at lunch time and many times people stayed behind till late evening. The group was indeed a very serious diverse group and the mix of students and professionals all helped. Some of the students caught up very fast and they were able to share with the others and we all came out so much better and empowered. I hope to one day share my work with the department to show what I learn.

Expiry Date: 
Thu, 2018-06-14 11:43
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