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Brunel's Open Science expertise links global research community

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Brunel University London research expertise in science gateways and e-Infrastructures has had a huge impact on building a better connected and open research community across African countries and between Europe and Africa.

Digital innovation, particularly in mobile apps, has been booming across many African nations and the continent as a whole has the world’s biggest and fastest growing mobile telephone market after China.

But while researchers may be able to read Open Access research papers, for academics or tech developers in many African countries it has been more difficult to access and use much of the outputs of research such as the data, results, software and simulations associated with global science. 

Through the H2020 EU-funded Sci-GaIA project, Brunel’s Dr Simon Taylor and Dr Anastasia Anagnostou (Department of Computer Science) have been working with an international research community, introducing a training scheme to create ‘champions’ with the skills to build the science gateways which give researchers access to this wealth of knowledge.

In collaboration with Professor Roberto Barbera of the University of Catania, Sicily, the Ubuntunet Alliance (Malawi) and the West and Central Research and Education Network (Ghana) through a series of ‘hackfest’ events, dozens of scientists in Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Ethiopia have been trained in building applications and services which give front-end access to such outputs, and a thriving developer community has also been formed online.

The results of this have been a better-connected scientific community, and several major successes to date, built around the principles of Open Access. Of particular importance has been the development of new, advanced, connectivity for public health projects, from the development of a public health gateway in Kenya to store and analyse motorcycle crash fatality data, to the development in Lagos, Nigeria, of the MIPAR Open Access repository for medical imagery and analysis.

This has also enabled widespread innovation. For example, the motorcycle application is being used to develop similar applications in Uganda and Tanzania. The MIPAR repository is jump starting a new scientific community based in Nigeria.  

“In African research communities, international collaboration and the pursuit of scientific endeavour has faced a major barrier with the lack of access to e-Infrastructures and high performance network infrastructure enjoyed by European countries,” explains Dr Taylor.

“Through the European Commission’s AfricaConnect project, cables were installed along the continent’s eastern side to establish a high-capacity network for research and education in Southern and Eastern Africa. Through AfricaConnect2 and other regional developments, Western Africa will also gain a gateway to global research collaboration – so the situation is changing rapidly.

“Easy-to-use web portals, otherwise known as science gateways, enable communities of practice to easily access e-Infrastructure facilities and through these collaborate with communities of practice around the world. But that’s where a major problem has existed – it was very difficult for non-experts to develop science gateways and deploy and operate e-infrastructure services in the first place.”

Guides and supporting material existed but were often out of date. Through Sci-GaIA, these materials have been developed into clearly structured guides and other documents, designed to train and support representatives of national education and research networks, universities and other communities of practice in African states to develop science gateways and e-Infrastructures. Vitally, this also includes guides to developing institutional Open Access repositories – a cornerstone of Open Science.

 

Ultimately, science gateways and e-infrastructures are core technologies in the principle of Open Science, and it is through Open Science, when research data and research processes become freely available, that collaborations are enabled and African science becomes more visible across the world.

Some 35 ‘champions’ across Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria have so far been fully trained in how to support research communities, creating seven new science gateways to date and multiple new Open Access data repositories.

Two years after Sci-GaIA’s launch, the outcomes have been notable. New projects include:

  • The African Pharmacology Science Gateway, a virtual collaborative community focusing on biomedical and pharmalogical sciences, clinical trials and drug studies for improving pan-African healthcare
  • The Medical Image Analysis portal, offering a platform to access high resolution medical images remotely, for the purpose of improving medical diagnosis and patient management
  • The Kenya Public Health Gateway for storing and retrieving information from the huge number of fatal accidents occurring on the country’s roads each year
  • A collaboration with the Weather Information Project in East Africa and Sci-GaIA-trained researchers to integrate a weather research and forecasting model into the Africa Grid Science Gateway, primarily to exploit high performance computing resources at the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology and inform vital decision making in agriculture, disaster management, aviation, fishing, health and more

 Energising Scientific Endeavour through Science Gateways and e-Infrastructures in Africa (Sci-GaIA) is funded by the European Union’s H2020 Programme.

Full information can be found at www.sci-gaia.eu

Case study: Cutting crash deaths on Kenya’s roads

World Health Organisation figures show that road traffic accidents kill more people around the world than malaria. Some 3,400 people die on the world's roads every day, and traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for young people. The WHO has reported that while 1.3 million each year lose their life to road traffic accidents worldwide, a further 20-50 million also endure non-fatal injuries.

The world is urbanising at a rapid pace; by 2050 more than 2 billion additional people will live in cities and the vast majority of this growth will be concentrated in developing countries. With population increase comes greater motorisation. At present despite low and middle income countries being home to less than 50% of registered vehicles, they are where 90% of the world’s traffic accident deaths occur.

More than 4,000 road crash fatalities are reported annually in Kenya, and this number does not report the number of people who are injured and maimed. The advent of motorcycle taxis has aggravated the situation and speeding public transit buses have also been reported to be the trigger for a high number of accidents.

The Kenya Public Health Gateway (KPG) was conceived and birthed at the second e-Research Summer Hackfest after discussions between Brunel’s Dr Simon Taylor and Dr John Kanyaru (University of Wolverhampton). During a two-week-long training event, two Sci-GaIA ‘champions’, Dennis Muoki and Charles Njaramba from Egerton University and the Savannah Institute for Business and Informatics learned how to build a science gateway and created  the KPG.

Using the gLibrary Framework developed at the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics, the KPG stores and retrieves motorbike accident data, allowing both access to existing data repositories and the creation of new ones. The Gateway has a web interface through which data can be added, and a mobile app that uses the GPS  functionality on smartphones to connect to the KPGmetadata server and notify public bus drivers in real-time about approaching dangerous areas known to be hot spots for accidents.

Reported by:

Sarah Cox, Media Relations
sarah.cox@brunel.ac.uk