23 December 2009

Africa: Unesco Fights Brain Drain With Computing Gain

Ouagadougou — UNESCO is expanding a scheme that aims to slow the brain drain of African and Arab researchers by giving them access to global scientific networks and computing power.

The 'Brain Gain Initiative', set up in partnership with computer firm Hewlett-Packard, enables researchers to collaborate with experts around the world through grid and cloud computing and so boost loyalty to the local science and technology effort.

Grid computing combines the processing power of several computers across a network to work on a single scientific problem, while cloud computing allows researchers to access the latest web applications and databases.

In Burkina Faso, two projects at the University of Ouagadougou will benefit from the scheme: modelling the movement of pollutants in the drainage basin of the Sourou river, led by Blaise Somé; and the implementation of a high-performance computing grid, led by Oumarou Sié.

Sié told SciDev.Net that his project would allow local researchers to share resources with their counterparts anywhere in the world, while also giving them power to perform calculations that their own computers cannot do.

Previously, such calculations had to be conducted abroad, but now Sié's laboratory, and others receiving funding, can be more independent, he said.

The laboratories overseeing these projects will each receive about US$25,000 worth of computer equipment as well as US$20,000 of operational funds, said Sié.

The scheme builds on a successful pilot in five universities from 2006-09, and will involve 15 more universities in the Middle East and Africa.

"The Brain Gain Initiative has a direct link with lasting development," said Somé.

Training for participants on how to use and maintain the equipment took place in South Africa this month (14-18 December) and a UNESCO spokesperson said that partnership agreements were being prepared, with schedules to be signed at the end of January 2010.

UNESCO and Hewlett-Packard say they plan to include 100 more universities in the scheme by the end of 2011, with help from additional partners.

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