100 years of innovation and inventions – The South African Vice-Chancellor reflects on the future

We live in a world characterized by inequality, poverty, economic volatility, globalization, climate change and ambiguity. in my country, South Africaresidents face socio-economic and political instability, electricity and water cuts, homelessness, unethical governance, and poor or no service provision.

It is far from what the country could be if we put its best talents and resources to use for the benefit of humanity.

Innovation will be key to any positive change, and research-intensive universities play a central role in that innovation. as the University of the Witwatersrand (or Wits, as it’s commonly known) turns 100, my colleagues and I have been thinking a lot about the inventions and discoveries that have emerged from the university over the past 100 years – and what to come next.

Great innovations have emerged from the work done by Wits researchers who have shifted the quadrant in areas ranging from health to computing to quantum and nuclear physics. This rich knowledge continues to inform day-to-day politics and decisions, and is the foundation of the cutting-edge research that the institution continues to produce.

100 years of change

On 1 September 1939, Adolf Hitler invaded Poland. World War II was underway. Just three months later, the first radar set was tested Wits University campus. Great Britain and his allies were looking for a way to detect enemy aircraft and ships. A group of scientists, including Sir Basilio SchonlandDirector of Bernard Price Institute of Geophysical Research and another Wits engineer, Professor Guerino Bozzoli – got together to harness the power of radio waves.

Nearly a century later, sensor science has made several quantum leaps. professor Andrea Forbes and his team at Wits encrypt, transmit and decrypt data quickly and securely through rays of light. She just earned R54 million for the Wits Quantum Initiative, which explores theoretical and experimental quantum science and engineering, secure communications, enhanced quantum-inspired imaging, new nano and quantum sensors and devices.

The university has also come a long way in its IT journey. In 1960 it was the first university in South Africa own a IBM central computer. Today, in collaboration with IBMwe are the first African university to access a quantum computer.

As president of the National working group on quantum computing in South Africathis is an area where I see immense potential Africa. Classical computing has served society incredibly well. It gave us the Internet and cashless commerce. He sent humans to the moon, he put robots on Mars and smartphones in our pockets.

But many of the world’s greatest mysteries and potentially greatest opportunities remain beyond the reach of classic computers. To continue the pace of progress, we need to augment the classical approach with a completely new paradigm, which follows its own set of rules: quantum computing.

This radically new way of doing computer calculations is exponentially faster than any classic computer. It can run new algorithms to solve previously “unsolvable” problems in optimization, chemistry, and machine learning, and its applications are far-reaching, from physics to healthcare.

Innovative healthcare is badly needed across the African continent. Here too Wits was able to play a fundamental role in the sphere of research, teaching and learning, clinical, social and advocacy. It was the first university to conduct COVID-19 vaccination studies South Africa.

Our researchers have also developed technology to improve accurate testing for tuberculosis. And the Pelebox, an invention to reduce the time patients spend waiting for drugs in hospitals.

Elsewhere in the institute, researchers connected the brain to the internet, used brain waves to control a robotic prosthetic hand, and developed an affordable 3D printed bionic hand.

Difficult questions

Research-intensive university in South Africa they need to ask the tough questions about their role in a changing society.

How do we serve as a catalyst for social change? How can we best use our intellectual dynamism and work with the public and private sectors to bring about positive change? How do we create relevant new knowledge and translate it into innovation? How can we best develop critical thinkers, innovators, creators and the high-level skills needed to advance our economy and the future world of work?

How to quantify our social impact and ensure it is contextually tuned? How can we influence policy change?

These questions are at the heart of the university’s strategy today. And they are undoubtedly considered throughout the higher education sector as universities work to harness their collective talent and resources at their disposal to create a new future and transform society for the benefit of all humanity.

Zeblon Vilakazi, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University of the Witwatersrand

Copyright The conversation Africa. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com)., Source English news service

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