On the opening of AIMS Senegal

On September 6, 2011, the Government of Senegal and international partners participated in the Grand Opening of a new pan-African centre of excellence for Africa’s brightest math and science graduates, in a beautiful seaside location in Mbour, 80 km south of Dakar.

The Director of the AIMS-Senegal Institute is Professor Mamadou Sanghare, one of Africa’s most distinguished mathematicians and formerly head of the Doctoral School in Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of Cheikh Anta Diop, Senegal’s largest public university.

AIMS-Senegal is the second African Institute for Mathematical Sciences centre, joining AIMS-South Africa, which has operated in Cape Town since 2003. The plan to expand AIMS across Africa is known as the AIMS-Next Einstein Initiative (AIMS-NEI) and grew out of a wish first expressed by AIMS founder Professor Neil Turok, now Director of Canada’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, that “the next Einstein be African.” That wish has evolved into a plan to create a pan-African network of 15 AIMS centres over the next decade, including the centres in Senegal and South Africa.

At the Grand Opening celebrations, AIMS-Senegal’s first 36 students, including 10 women, from 14 countries were joined by dignitaries from approximately 15 countries representing the centre’s many supporters and partnering academic institutions. These include the Universities of Cheikh Anta Diop, Gaston Berger, Thies and Ziguinchor in Senegal, the University of Ottawa in Canada, Universities Pierre et Marie Curie and Paris Sud in France, Humboldt University of Berlin in Germany, and the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in China.

Cédric Villani with AIMS-Sénégal students at the opening ceremony.

Speakers at the opening ceremony included Tidiane Ba, the Senegalese Minister of Higher Education and Research; local dignitaries, including the Mayor of Mbour; representatives of AIMS-Senegal supporters, including the Ambassador of Canada to Senegal, the President of the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), and Tidiane Deme of Google; and preeminent international scientists, including Nobel Prize winner Klaus von Klitzing and Fields Medallist Cedric Villani.

Tidiane Ba, Minister of Higher Education and Research of Senegal said, “AIMS-Senegal will enable our most talented students, Senegalese and from across the continent, to receive a fully-funded world-class education here in Senegal. We are proud of AIMS-Senegal and support it strongly.”

“The opening of our second centre, AIMS-Senegal, is a major milestone towards our dream of a truly pan-African network of scientific centres where the continent’s bright minds can shine,” says Neil Turok. “As AIMS expands, thousands of talented Africans will acquire the skills they need to build Africa’s future economic, educational and technological self-sufficiency.”

Supporters of AIMS-Senegal planted trees to celebrate the opening of the new centre.

The establishment of AIMS-Senegal has been supported by the Government of Senegal, which provided a grant of US$1.4 million and donated a parcel of land; Google, which provided US$1 million; the Kavelman-Fonn Foundation, through its donation of US$600,000; the Government of France (through the IRD), which has provided land valued at US$1.3 million; and the Government of Canada (through the IDRC), which is providing US$20 million to support the establishment of three new AIMS centres, including the one in Senegal. AIMS-Senegal also gratefully acknowledges support from Cambridge University Press, the Centre International de Recherche et d’Enseignement de Mbour (CIREM), the Daniel Iagolnitzer Foundation, and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Scholarships have been provided by growing number of North American and European universities and companies through the One- for-Many scholarship program. The first students were selected from over 350 who applied through the joint admission process shared by the AIMS centres in South Africa and Senegal.

A highlight of the day was the arrival of the first shipment of solar cells which had been donated by the German company Q-Cells. The 90 cells will provide a total of 20kW of power, enough to cover the electricity needs of the centre.

Over the 2011-2012 academic year, the students will be taught by around 25 outstanding international lecturers along with 5 dedicated tutors, before receiving their Masters degrees (Maitre 1) next June.

Since its opening, AIMS Senegal has seen many illustrious visitors, including His Excellency President Wade of Senegal in October.

The presence of famous scientists is Senegal has led to some interesting events for Senegalese universities and the general public. Prof. Jean-Christophe Yoccoz (Collège de France, Fields Medal 1994) who came to teach at AIMS Senegal gave a public talk at the University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar on December 23rd, 2011.

The year ahead will see many milestones in the first year of the second AIMS centre. More public talks from prominent scientists are expected. Probably the biggest milestone of a new centre: the first generation of students will graduate. We look forward to a fruitful and exciting year ahead!

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