Last week, when Wits University announced a R55 million donation from Anglo-American to transform the Johannesburg Planetarium into a “digital dome”, it promised more than just a facelift.
The magnificent building that sits near the entrance to the university’s east campus has welcomed more than 4 million visitors since it was built in the late 1950s. Now, it’s being repurposed for the 21st century.
“We are building a high-tech 360° IMAX theater, the best,” said Professor Roger Deane, director of the Wits Center for Astrophysics, at a launch event on Monday. However, he said it would serve a larger purpose: “to help researchers in all fields visualize data in a deeper way”.
“For many researchers in various fields, we feel like we are drowning in data, which comes with the challenge of datasets becoming more complex and multi-dimensional. A place like the new Wits Anglo American Digital Dome is a way to develop an accurate and focused understanding of big data, where we will be able to visualize our work.”
He gave examples such as teaching anatomy to first-year medical students, visualizing particle showers at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland, or testing new games created by game design students.
The reconstruction of the Planetarium is part of the program to celebrate the centenary of the University this year, led by the vice-chancellor and principal Professor Zeblon Vilakazi. He also emphasized the role that the new building will play in the expansion of digital technology in other fields of science, “from climate modeling, the use of artificial intelligence, to new trends in digital art.”
“There are many shared projects with common goals, to develop high-quality skills to move our economy into the digital age and create the workforce of the future to jointly create new and beneficial knowledge,” he said.
He reminded the audience that Wits was founded as a mining school in the Kimberley, and is still working to harness the power of intelligence and energy to make mining safer and more sustainable. But the digital dome project was about more.
“This is our time of the month, to nurture and inspire the next generation of innovators, changemakers and solution finders. They will, despite our challenges…
However, it was Anglo American’s CEO Duncan Wanblad who gave a clear overview of what the program will mean for innovation and discovery:
“This high-tech, research-intensive institution will enable future generations of young African students to contribute to solving some of society’s most pressing challenges.
“Whether that’s enabling researchers to map multi-layered biodiversity data, or giving the public the opportunity to explore the universe through television, such as the Square Kilometer Array, or simply exploring new ways to visualize and present more complex data, this new center will be. an expression of who we are as a people here in South Africa: both curious and creative.”
Although it is given that the world is going through a period of unprecedented disruption, and the amount of data available has been exploding in recent years, it is not very exciting that the analysis of large data sets will become the basic basis of competition.
Especially in a country like South Africa, says Wanblad, it will fuel new waves of productivity, growth and innovation.
“Details are challenging, and they are challenging our world as we know it today. The mining industry is no exception to this challenge. Our industry is very data-rich, and we use a small portion of that data, whether it’s the temperature of the truck tires, in all the integrated, digitized work centers.
“Data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence are all factors that enable us to turn large amounts of this data into predictive intelligence. And that gives us information from the sensor on the way to the board. “
* Arthur Goldstuck is the founder of World Wide Worx and the editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter at @art2gee