UWC eResearch Office partnering with FSNet-Africa project in interdisciplinary research on African food systems

Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa) is a collaborative project between the University of Pretoria’s (UP) African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Food Systems, the University of Leeds (UoL) (United Kingdom), and the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).

FSNet-Africa is an ARUA – UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Research Excellence Project funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF); its major contribution to addressing the SDG challenges will be the focus on developing a new understanding of the African food system. It will aim to develop the FSNet-Africa Food Systems Framework and utilising systems-based methodologies to conduct research that enhances understanding of the framework’s components, their interactions, and ultimately the leverage points for food system transformation.

The Fellowship

Dr Frederic Isingizwe from the eResearch Office is one of UWC’s two recipients of the FSNet-Africa fellowship, a two-year research fellowship (July 2021 to June 2023) for early career researchers who are supported in their research to identify and evaluate climate-smart, nutrition-sensitive, poverty-reducing interventions in African food systems.

In addition to research project funding, fellows are supported through participation in a series of structured activities in science, mentorship and leadership development, and by establishing long term research networks, which currently involve ten African Universities and the University of Leeds. This will ensure that the fellows are positioned in the necessary enabling environment and provided with the opportunity to develop the necessary skills to implement impact focused interdisciplinary research related to African food systems and significantly advance their academic careers.

During the fellowship, each fellow will be assigned at least two mentors, from both African and UK universities. These carefully matched research-triads will be interdisciplinary teams that enable the fellows to receive the support they need to develop and implement quality interdisciplinary research projects. This will also create opportunities for fellows and mentors to build meaningful relationships with researchers outside of their own organisations, which can lead to longer term collaborations.

The Research

Understanding African food systems and developing evidence-based interventions to address gaps and systems failures is fundamental to achieving four critical food systems outcomes – nutritious food (safe and high-quality); equitable inclusive systems (social aspects e.g. gender); sustainable environmental approaches and efficient systems (economic considerations e.g. poverty reduction).

The fellows’ research will focus on a systems approach (rather than a discipline-specific approach) to understanding African food systems, whereby the conceptualisation recognises:
– that gender and poverty are cross-cutting issues, influencing not only labour, inputs and types of farming systems (supply), but also diets and food cultures (demand);
– formal and informal supply chains through which food moves from farm to consumer and the different actors and regulations that govern those chains (and the interactions between them);
– key emerging actors within the food systems, such as “agripreneurs” setting up businesses in the agri-sector, and critical drivers of change (e.g. urbanisation and the growing African middle class).

Frederic’s research in the fellowship will focus on developing data-driven solutions for the food supply chain. Aspects such as quality monitoring of agri-food products along the food chain and optimisation of supply chain processes will be the main focus. The project will aim to develop solutions that help improve quality, safety and reduce loss of food along the food chain.

Introducing ESCALATOR

An exciting addition to the South Africa Digital Humanities (DH) landscape, ESCALATOR has recently launched, and aims to establish a local community of practice within DH. SADiLaR (the South African Centre for Digital Language Resources) is behind the project which will focus on the adoption of digital research methodologies and practices to the Social Sciences and Humanities.

“Humanities and Social Sciences research and education are in dire need of strong coordinated interventions to enable the pervasive adoption of digital research methodologies and practices. Over the past few years several capacity development initiatives were implemented within various institutions and communities, but South Africa still lacks a national, integrated active community of practice in this space”.


Working groups like Python study group and the R study group provide valuable long-term learning opportunities and supportive communities. Additionally, the ESCALATOR Digital Champions Initiative is a multi-track mentorship and networking programme that complements other activities, and is open to researchers, professional staff, and students from the 26 public universities and research councils in South Africa.

Find out more about the project.

NITheCS Roadshow at UWC

The eResearch Office will be hosting a NITheCS Roadshow at UWC titled ‘Transition from NITheP to NITheCS and how it can benefit your University‘. NITheCS, or the National Institute for Theoretical and Computational Sciences, was formerly known as NITheP, or the National Institute for Theoretical Physics. Its new name emphasizes its much-widened scope to supporting research, training and engagement across a wide range of fields. The session will be moderated by eResearch Director Prof Mattia Vaccari, and Prof Francesco Petruccione (NITheCS Interim Director) will give a presentation and answer questions.

Register here to attend the roadshow and see more details below.

REDCap Webinar Recording

On 6 July, the eResearch Office held a webinar on REDCap, a powerful tool for electronic data capture and management. The session was facilitated by Director of the eResearch Office Prof Vaccari, and included presentations from members of the eResearch Office, as well as two informative and inspiring presentations from UWC researchers who make regular use of REDCap for their research – Faheema Kimmie-Dhansay and Tamryn Frank.

REDCap (Research Electronic Data Capture) is a browser-based, metadata-driven Electronic Data Capture (EDC) software and workflow methodology for designing clinical and translational research databases. It is widely used in the academic research community: the REDCap Consortium is a collaborative, international network of more than 2400 institutional partners in over 115 countries, with more than 590,000 total end-users employing the software for more than 450,000 ongoing research studies. REDCap users can benefit from a broad range of data collection functionality, and take control of their data collection work. It is a powerful tool for secure methods of flexible and robust data collection, and although it was originally developed for the Health Sciences, it can be used in any discipline.

Watch a recording of our REDCap webinar.

About our Guest Presenters

Faheema, a Biostatistician with qualifications in Dentistry and Clinical Epidemiology, is currently working at UWC’s dental faculty and is pursuing her PhD in the risk factors associated with the incidence of caries in children under 6. She has a special interest in the detection of caries in adults and children, alike, and is interested in statistical models analysing time-varying covariates.

Tamryn is a researcher at the UWC’s School of Public Health (SoPH). She works in the food environment policy space, in the field of obesity- and NCD prevention. This informs her current PhD research, which is in the area of obesity prevention policies in low income settings. She is currently serving on the research working group advising the South African National Department of Health on Front-of-Package labelling. Prior to joining the SoPH, Tamryn worked as a primary health care dietitian for eight years for the Department of Health. Her masters research focused on human rights and food security.

The State of Open Data Survey 2021

Every year, Figshare, in partnership with Digital Science and Springer Nature, conducts the largest survey of its kind to discover global attitudes towards open data.

Researchers from around the world are invited to participate in The State of Open Data Survey 2021.

The aim of the survey is to find out about global experiences and attitudes towards sharing data, how researchers handle research data, the challenges that researchers and institutions face in regard to data, and its impact on workload and resources.

Read about the results of the 2020 survey here.

Survey completion time: approximately 20 minutes
Closing date: Friday 30th July
Prize draw: One of five $100 gift cards

Take the survey

Upcoming REDCap Webinar: Take Control Of Electronic Data Capture And Workflow

The eResearch Office invites researchers and students to participate in a webinar on REDCap on Tuesday 6 July at 11am.

REDCap (Research Electronic Data Capture) is a browser-based, metadata-driven Electronic Data Capture (EDC) software and workflow methodology for designing clinical and translational research databases. It is widely used in the academic research community: the REDCap Consortium is a collaborative, international network of more than 2400 institutional partners in over 115 countries, with more than 590,000 total end-users employing the software for more than 450,000 ongoing research studies.

REDCap users can benefit from a broad range of data collection functionality, and take control of their data collection work. It is a powerful tool for secure methods of flexible and robust data collection, and although it was originally developed for the Health Sciences, it can be used in any discipline.

The webinar will include an introduction to the REDCap platform and its main features, a demonstration on how REDCap data can be used for analysis and visualisation, as well as brief presentations of use cases by colleagues at UWC. We will conclude with questions directed at the panel.

We will also be addressing any UWC-specific related REDCap queries, and if there are any pressing questions that you would like to raise, please feel free to email us prior to the webinar at eresearch-support@uwc.ac.za

REDCAP Webinar Details

Date: Tuesday 6 July 
Time: 11:00 am
Register in advancehttps://uwc.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJUrdO6gqD4oGtX-_HRfWxFJIhbVWq-tAQSU

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

We look forward to seeing you there.

CarpentryConnect South Africa 2021

Registration is now open for CarpentryConnect South Africa 2021! 

The Carpentries is a non-profit organisation that teaches foundational computational, coding, and data science skills to academics, students and academic support staff worldwide. Carpentries workshops have been running at South African public universities and research institutions to hundreds of learners since 2014, and almost 100 instructors have been trained to teach digital and computational concepts to novices.

The first South African CarpentryConnect took place in Johannesburg, South Africa in September 2018. The second will be held virtually and will bring together newer and more experienced community members to share knowledge, network, develop new skills, and develop strategies for building strong local communities around digital and computational literacy at universities. Workshop fees and mobile data for African participants are funded by Code for Science and Society Event Fund

We invite participants to register for the following events:

Data Carpentry: 6-10 September, 9:00-13:00 SAST. This is an introduction to R, designed for participants with no programming experience. Lessons begin with some basic information about R syntax and the RStudio interface, and then move through how to import CSV files, the structuring of data frames, how to deal with factors, how to add/remove rows and columns and how to calculate summary statistics from a data frame. The lessons also touch on plotting, which is an excellent introduction to data visualisation. Space is limited to 25 learners. Register here.

Instructor training: 13-17 September, 9:00-13:00 SAST. The Carpentries workshops are taught by trained, peer, volunteer instructors. All of our Instructors complete an Instructor Training program, which teaches instructional pedagogy as well as the practicalities of teaching a Carpentries workshop. Instructors can teach workshops in their local area, travel to teach or teach or teach online. We have held workshops in over 40 countries on every continent (including Antarctica). Space is limited to 20 learners. Register here. *Please use the code “ccza43”.

Other events include:

Keynote: CarpentryConnect South Africa’s blurb in 2021 will be delivered by Dr Kari L. Jordan, Executive Director at The Carpentries on Monday 6 September at 14:00 SAST. Register here.

Networking events: The CarpentryConnect South Africa organising team will also host two networking events (Tuesday 7 and Thursday 16 September at 14:00 SAST) for our Carpentries community. These will be great opportunities to connect with like-minded people in fun, collaborative and interactive online events. Register here.

Closing: On Friday 17 September at 14:00 SAST we would like to create a space for community members to offer feedback and lessons learned on CarpentryConnect South Africa 2021 at the end of the two weeks. Register here.

For more information visit https://za2021.carpentryconnect.org/ 

Please note: While the event is fully funded by the organisers you will be held liable for a R500 attendance fee should you fail to attend without cancelling more than 48 hours prior.

X-ray Observations Supporting MIGHTEE MeerKAT Science Project Unveiled

New X-ray map reveals the growing supermassive black holes in next-generation MeerKAT survey fields 

One of the largest X-ray surveys using the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton space observatory has mapped nearly 12,000 X-ray sources across three large, prime regions of the sky. The X-ray sources represent active galactic nuclei and galaxy clusters, and the survey captures the growth of the supermassive black holes at the cores of these galaxies. This X-ray survey complements previous X-ray surveys, allowing the researchers to map active galactic nuclei in a wide range of cosmic environments.

The XMM-SERVS survey lays key groundwork for studying the cosmic history and physical  properties of active galaxies 

Figure 1: XMM-Newton image of the 4.6-square-degree W-CDF-S field reveals the wide, sensitive view of the X-ray sky provided by XMM-SERVS. The detected sources, most of which are growing supermassive black holes, are color coded according to the energies of the X rays detected (with red having the lowest energies and blue the highest). The white outline indicates the area of the Chandra Deep Field-South, a well-known ultradeep pencil-beam X ray survey. The image highlights how XMM-SERVS has now provided sensitive panoramic X ray imaging around this survey. The XMM-Newton image covers an area about 20 times larger than the apparent size of the full moon, shown to scale at upper left.
Figure 2: XMM-Newton image of the 3.2-square-degree ELAIS-S1 field, which is about 15 times larger than the apparent size of the full moon (shown to scale at lower right). XMM SERVS provides a wide, sensitive X-ray view of this region.

These X-ray observations will be invaluable to study the active galactic nuclei (i.e. black holes) and galaxy clusters (the largest cosmic structures bound together by gravity) detected by the MIGHTEE MeerKAT Large Survey Project (led by UWC Visiting Professor Matt Jarvis and UWC Research Chair Russ Taylor) in its ongoing mission to study the faint radio sky.

Qingling Ni and W. Niel Brandt from Penn State presented the results of the XMM-Spitzer  Extragalactic Representative Volume Survey (XMM-SERVS) at a press briefing during the 238th meeting of the American Astronomical  Society on 7 June. A paper describing the survey, authored by an international team of astronomers including UWC’s eResearch Director Prof Mattia Vaccari, has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement. A pre-print is also available on arxiv.org.

“X-ray surveys are the best way to find growing supermassive black holes, which are located at  the cores of many large galaxies,” said Ni, a graduate student at Penn State and lead author of  the paper. “With this massive new survey, we can access population data about growing  supermassive black holes to better understand their physical properties and evolution over cosmic history.” 

“This survey represents key foundational work upon which, I suspect, hundreds of studies will  be built over the next decade or two,” said Brandt, Verne M. Willaman Professor of Astronomy  and Astrophysics and professor of physics at Penn State, and one of the leaders of the study.  “XMM-Newton was the best mission to gather these data, and we needed to invest a lot of  observation time for this study—with a total combined exposure of nearly 60 days—because it  will be so important for active galaxy studies, galaxy cluster studies, and for understanding  large-scale structures in the universe. It required a multiyear, multinational effort and it’s  incredibly gratifying to get it done. We are most grateful to the European Space Agency and  NASA for their long-term support of this work.” 

Caption from featured image: XMM-Newton image of the 5.3-square-degree XMM-LSS field, which is about 25 times  larger than the apparent size of the full moon (shown to scale at lower right). XMM-LSS was the  first XMM-SERVS field to have been observed by XMM-Newton. Chien-Ting Chen, a former postdoctoral researcher at Penn State who is now an astronomer at USRA, led the work for this  field (see Chen et al. 2018, Mon. Not. Roy. Ast. Soc.). XMM-SERVS provides a wide, sensitive X ray view of this region

NITheCS Colloquium: Prof Mattia Vaccari, The Ilifu Cloud Computing Facility & X-Informatics Data Intensive Research

Monday, 7 June, 4pm.

NITheCS (National Institute for Theoretical and Computational Sciences) is hosting a colloquium featuring UWC’s Director of the eResearch Office, Prof Mattia Vaccari.


Over the past decade, the global science enterprise has been transformed by the data generating capabilities of our instruments. Distributed science collaborations creating datasets too large to manage for individual researchers are becoming the norm, and in response, X-Informatics, or the application of data science techniques to different science fields, has evolved into a new and exciting field of applied computer science. In this new big data era, institutions and national communities that have the capacity to design and implement the solutions to effectively extract knowledge from data will play a lead role in science. Those that do not, will not.

The Ilifu project was set up to address this challenge in Astroinformatics and Bioinformatics. Ilifu is building cross-disciplinary teams to undertake research and development in technologies and big data science to build capacity for South African researchers to be globally competitive in the era of big data.

In this presentation, Prof Vaccari will talk about Ilifu, its partnership model, goals and research programs, with a particular focus on multi-wavelength galaxy evolution studies, and outline a vision for a federated South African Data Intensive Research Cloud that empowers researchers to work with and collaborate on big data science projects.

Register for the event, or read more.

Five Years of FAIR

The Future of FAIR

Five years since the formal publication of the FAIR data principles, a newly published white paper, Springer Nature’s The Future of FAIR, looks at the real-world impact of FAIR. An international cohort of research data professionals share their opinions and offer commentary on the impact of the FAIR data principles to date, as well as what the next steps in research data management are.

Varsha Khodiyar on the Springboard blog writes that the “burgeoning open science (or open research) movement aims to make public and charity funded research as transparent and accessible as possible, and available for use to all to use, extend and build on. Research data is central to this vision, and to many policies and initiatives launched in recent years encouraging the adoption of open science practices. The impact of the FAIR data concept on open science advocates, position statements, policies and funding opportunities is unmistakable”.

Read more about the FAIR data principles, find out more about the study, and download The Future of FAIR white paper.