SKIES (SKilled, Innovative and Entrepreneurial Scientists) is an EU-funded project launched at the beginning of March. It aims to provide PhD and young doctoral researchers in the field of astronomy with new transferable skills for academia and industry, integrating open science, social innovation and entrepreneurship topics.

Leiden University in the Netherlands is leading the project, and local PI Dr Lucia Marchetti (from UCT’s Astronomy department) is the lead for the South African involvement of the initiative. eResearch Director and Astroinformatics Research Professor Mattia Vaccari is involved in the project too, along with SARAO. The project will run for 18 months.

“While an advanced degree in STEM subjects has long been an excellent basis for a career e.g. in the tech industry, most graduates still have to pick up additional skills along the way. The SKIES project aims to bridge this gap by enabling Astronomy PhD students to build upon their strengths to develop into well-rounded scientists and professionals. This is particularly important for SA in the increasingly global talent search of the 4IR era”, says Prof Vaccari.

SKIES will be implemented in astronomy research organisations around the world, including South Africa, Germany, The Netherlands, Poland and Portugal, reaching 500 astronomy graduate students and young researchers. A Train-the-Trainer programme will build the capacity of the teaching staff in each partner country so that they have the knowledge and tools to continue the programme beyond the lifetime of the project.

“I am thrilled to be able to offer this opportunity to our PhD candidates. Their astronomy training already provides them many theoretical skills they can apply into a job outside academia, like programming and problem-solving. With this training, we will now show them how they can best exploit and translate their knowledge into a job beyond astronomy. In this way we will ensure that all our astronomy students are fully equipped for whichever path they decide to take after their PhD”, says local PI Dr Lucia Marchetti.

Madagascar Astronomy Python Workshop 2017. Credit: IAU Office of Astronomy for Development archive
Madagascar Astronomy Python Workshop 2017. Credit: IAU Office of Astronomy for Development archive

“The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) supports this exciting collaboration, which gives doctoral students the necessary skills for a smoother transition from academia to industry. It is expected that the SKIES project will lead to increased employability of doctoral students in industry or through entrepreneurship, who will be effectively working on high-impact areas to benefit broader society on the African continent. We look forward to implementing this training and development opportunity with our South African and European partners.”, says Dr Bonita de Swardt, SARAO Programme Manager: Strategic Partnerships for Human Capital Development.

The project summary can be viewed here.

Postdoctoral Fellowship at IBM Research Africa Lab

IBM Research Africa invites applications for postdoctoral positions to be held at the IBM Research Lab in South Africa, seeking outstanding candidates who obtained their doctoral degrees within the last five years. Applicants who are currently finalising their doctoral dissertations for examination may apply, provided that they will submit by 31 July 2021. The positions are tenable for eight months between May and December 2021.

Read more about the opportunity.

Women in Data Science (WiDS) Event

For international women’s day last week, H3ABioNet hosted a WiDS Africa regional event to engage the community of diverse women in Data Science.

WiDS Africa is an independent event that was organised by H3ABioNet (Pan African Bioinformatics Network for the Human Heredity and Health in Africa) in collaboration with MARI & dLabTz (Tanzanian Data Lab) as part of WiDS Worldwide conference organized by Stanford University. It features outstanding women doing outstanding work in the field of data science.

The recording includes the WiDS Stanford Livestream as well as featured Africa-specific lightning talks, panel discussions, Keynote speech, and ends with a networking event.

UWC’s Online Data Carpentry Workshop in April

An online Data Carpentry workshop will take place from 12-16 April, and is aimed at students and researchers who want to start learning how to work with their data. The workshop will be hosted by UWC and sponsored by SADiLaR.

Registration opens today!

Data Carpentry develops and teaches workshops on the fundamental data skills needed to conduct research. Its target audience is researchers who have little to no prior computational experience, and its lessons are domain specific, building on learners’ existing knowledge to enable them to quickly apply skills learned to their own research. Participants will be encouraged to help one another and to apply what they have learned to their own research problems.

For more information on what the Carpentries teach and why, please see the paper Good Enough Practices for Scientific Computing.

Lessons will include data organising and cleaning with OpenRefine, and data analysis and visualisation with R. No previous knowledge of the tools that will be presented at the workshop is necessary.

Participation is free, and there is a registration link on the site.  

Please contact if there are any questions about the workshop, or contact Sarah Schäfer directly at

Join the African Scientists Directory

The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) has invited African scientists/scientists working on African research to consider joining the African Scientists Directory. The directory aims at connecting African scientists across the globe, and assists in identifying experts in selected fields – whether it is to invite as part of a meeting, panel, or conference, to conduct article peer-reviews, to invite as an external examiner, to co-author an article or collaborate as part of a project, or for any other professional reasons.

This can be done in 3 simple steps: Register & verify email – Login – Submit listing

Once submitted, the profile will be reviewed and once all information has been verified, it will be published on the database. Selected information is open access, but also view the end-user policy and data privacy/security policy for this database.

Additionally, the African Open Science Platform pilot project was concluded in October 2019, and ASSAf recently received consent from the funder (NRF) to make the Landscape Report available through the ASSAf Research Repository. It can be accessed here.

The State of Open Data

On 25 February, Figshare hosted The State of Open Data 2020. The webinar’s focus was on the annual State of Open Data Report, and included presentations from three speakers. It gives an overview of the results of the study, and insight into what librarians, publishers and research data managers can do to help make data sharing an integral part of research.

A recording of the webinar can be viewed here.

Speakers included Dr Leslie McIntosh ( CEO of Ripeta); Dr Mark Hahnel (founder of Figshare), and Mariëtte van Selm (Information Specialist, University of Amsterdam).

The State of Open Data report includes survey results from 4500 participants and a collection of articles from global industry experts. It is the longest-running longitudinal study on the subject, which was created in 2016 to examine attitudes and experiences of researchers working with open data – sharing it, reusing it, and redistributing it.

Access the dataset here –

Meet the Director

Mattia Vaccari

Prof Mattia Vaccari was appointed UWC’s first Director of eResearch in April 2019. His role reports to the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation and is responsible for the leadership and development of an eResearch strategy at UWC in partnership with data intensive research teams across campus.

Born in Italy, Prof Vaccari studied at the University of Padova and completed a MSc in Physics and a PhD in Space Science and Technology. He has since been a Research Fellow at Imperial College London, the University of Padova and UWC, which he first joined in 2011 and where he was most recently a Research Scientist with the Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy (IDIA) and the Astrophysics Group. In his research, he uses ground-based as well as space-based telescopes to observe distant galaxies at all wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum and thus study their formation and evolution over cosmic time. He is also interested in applying Artificial Intelligence techniques to longstanding problems in observational astrophysics such as source detection and classification.

Prof Vaccari has contributed to the design and developed data processing algorithms for several space satellite astrophysics missions by ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA. In particular, he contributed to the design of the GAIA space astrometry mission and to the development of the ground segment for the Herschel Space Observatory. At IDIA he leads the HELP-IDIA Panchromatic Project (HIPPO), whose aim is to create a cloud-based environment where astronomers can effectively exploit MeerKAT data in the context of multi-wavelength data.

Read more about Prof Vaccari on his web page!

European Astronomical Society Special Session

The European Astronomical Society virtual meeting EAS 2021 will hold a Special Session on 28 June – SS5 Data-intensive radio astronomy: bringing astrophysics to the exabyte era. It will feature UWC’s eResearch Director Mattia Vaccari, a member of the organising committee.

The session will cover the current status and challenges faced by radio astronomy in handling large data volumes, and technical solutions and applications within and outside astronomy.

The aim of the session is to bring together different communities (astrophysics, high-energy physics, research institutes, industry) to discuss current tools and ideas for the future development of data management. The meeting hopes to enhance the broader knowledge base through various approaches to tackling the challenges SKA radio telescopes are facing, now and in the future.

The topics that will be covered include
Data-intensive radio astronomy, current facilities and challenges;
Data science and the exa-scale era: technical solutions within astronomy;
Data science and the exa-scale era: applications and challenges outside astronomy.

Scientific Organising Committee – Special Session 5 EAS2021

chair – Eleni Vardoulaki (TLS, Germany)
co-chair – Marta Dembska (DLR, Germany)
co-chair – Alexander Drabent (TLS, Germany)

Mattia Vaccari (UWC, South Africa)
Roberto Pizzo (ASTRON, Netherlands)
Hans-Rainer Kloeckner (MPIfR, Germany)
Giuliano Taffoni (INAF, Italy)
Matthias Hoeft (TLS, Germany)

Find out more about EAS 2021 European Astronomical Society Annual Meeting 2021

The deadline for abstract submission is 2 March 2021. Researchers can submit abstracts here. The organising group will accept oral and poster presentations. Please also note that the same deadline applies for applications for fee waivers.

SS5 Data-intensive radio astronomy: bringing astrophysics to the exabyte era will be an afternoon session at CET (Central European time) on 28 June.


The Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) No 4 of 2013 came into force on 1 July 2020, and all public and private bodies that are processing personal information have until 1 July 2021 to ensure that they are compliant with the law. On 22 June 2020, President Ramaphosa made the announcement, which meant that organisations including universities have one year to become compliant.

POPIA is extremely relevant to all researchers as it applies to research activities that involve identifiable personal information of individuals or organisations. Considering the impact that research has on participants’ right to privacy is not just a POPIA obligation, it is also an integral part of research ethics.

Overall, POPIA is welcomed as it gives greater guidance to researchers regarding the use (and  protection) of personal information for research purposes. This should serve to improve  transparency, accountability and oversight in the processing of personal information, and  promote public trust in the use of personal information in research contexts.

There is some uncertainty on the application of the POPIA relevant to research, and some members of the South African research community are seeking further guidance. ASSAf has engaged with scientists and other stakeholders around developing a POPIA Code of  Conduct for Research to ensure certainty, transparency, and clarity in the processing of personal  information for research purposes.

ASSAf is currently inviting the South African scientific community to send lists of issues regarding the processing of personal information for research purposes, or the governance thereof, that the Steering Committee should consider in the POPIA Code of Conduct for Research. In particular, they are looking to receive recommendations as to how the Drafting Committee could address the issues raised. Please send your inputs by 12 February 2021 to Ms Mmaphuthi Mashiachidi (email:

Visit the interactive site for an easily navigable and accessible version of POPIA.

SKAO Launches

The SKA Observatory (SKAO) is an intergovernmental organisation dedicated to radio astronomy and was launched on 4 February following its first council meeting. SKAO is tasked with “building and operating the two largest and most complex radio telescope networks ever conceived to address fundamental questions about our universe”.

SKAO has headquarters in the UK, and sites in South Africa and Australia. It is the world’s second inter-governmental organisation that is solely dedicated to astronomy, and other members include Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal. Observers include France, Germany, India, Spain and Sweden. SKAO will begin recruitment in Australia and South Africa in the next few months, working alongside local partners CSIRO and SARAO to supervise construction, which is expected to last eight years, with early science opportunities starting in the mid 2020s.

South Africa’s MeerKAT telescope, currently operated by SARAO (South African Radio Astronomy Observatory), will become part (and make up approximately 25%) of the SKA1-Mid telescope or Phase 1 of the SKA mid-frequency telescope.

MeerKAT, situated in the Karoo, consists of a 64 dish-shaped antennas. It is an SKA precursor or ‘pathfinder’ telescope, and is the most powerful radio telescope in the southern hemisphere. The MeerKAT antennas, each 13.5 metres in diameter and standing about four stories high, are distributed over 8 km and are connected by buried power lines and optical fibre connections to very fast computers in the underground Karoo Array Processor Building (KAPB) on the Losberg site.

Find out more from SKA and SKA Observatory.

Image: Nighttime composite image of the SKA combining all elements in South Africa and Australia. Credit: SKAO, ICRAR, SARAO / Acknowledgment: The GLEAM view of the centre of the Milky Way, in radio colour. Credit: Natasha Hurley-Walker (Curtin / ICRAR) and the GLEAM Team.