Study to focus on computer science and innovation in Kenya, Uganda

September 25, 2013

A grant announced this month from the National Science Foundation seeks to understand how African computer science is developing in Kenya and Uganda and the role it plays in supporting innovation in those countries.

Over the past decade, a significant computer science research community has been quietly emerging in sub-Saharan Africa, and with it the potential to fuel new and transformative innovation. Computer science and engineering underlie numerous innovations – from mobile phones to geographic information systems – that are reshaping critical infrastructure in Africa for communication, banking and transportation. This, in turn, is reshaping the everyday lives of Africans living in both urban and rural areas. Jameson Wetmore Download Full Image

Jameson Wetmore, principal investigator on the NSF project and associate professor from the School for Human Evolution and Social Change, wants to help chart the transition from Africans simply absorbing advanced science and technology to building some of their own. Why choose to study computer science first? “Computer Science is a technical field that doesn’t require big labs and costly equipment,” Wetmore says. “So it may be possible for African countries to develop local capacity for CS at a faster rate than some other scientific fields. This means that CS could have a big impact on innovation and technology in sub-Saharan Africa in the coming years.”

An experienced team

The study analyzes important developments in the construction of an African computer science capacity by examining prominent computer science departments in two countries in East Africa: Makerere University in Uganda and University of Nairobi in Kenya. The project team has extensive experience conducting research in sub-Saharan Africa and has a network of contacts in both countries.

Co-principal investigator Gregg Zachary has been studying innovation in sub-Saharan Africa for more than ten years. Recently, he identified the emergence of computer science at Makarere University, in Kampala, Uganda, as an important potential example of how local science programs could produce innovations with a distinctive African character.

“African innovators still battle negative stereotypes,” says Zachary, a professor of practice in ASU’s Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. “While computer science is important as a formal academic discipline and a source of innovation, this study also provides a valuable new way of thinking about African innovation capabilities.”

ASU is partnering with Concordia University in Montreal on this project. Matthew Harsh, a co-principal investigator, has analyzed the innovation system surrounding agricultural biotechnology in Kenya, with a focus on national policy frameworks. He has undertaken similar surveys of innovation systems on how digital technology has changed science communication and collaboration in Kenya. Harsh is an assistant professor in the Centre for Engineering in Society at Concordia.

Making connections, sharing knowledge

The main goal of the research is to understand how computer science capacity is being built in Kenya and Uganda and how this capacity is connected to socially and economically relevant innovation.

Researchers often report on the success of knowledge and technological infrastructure that is created internationally and brought to Africa, mainly by private companies. Evidence suggests, however, that computer science expertise and innovative capacity are being created locally. And according to recent studies of science and technology policy, local capacity is critical for the creation of relevant and long-lasting innovations and economic benefits.

“Usually when researchers go to Africa, it is to provide aid, or to bring over a technology that has been developed in the West,” says Zachary. “What we want to do with this project is look at how knowledge is being created in Africa first. We want to study their system and we hope to find lessons there that we can take back with us, instead of the other way around.

“By combining our research program with the knowledge that is being created in sub-Saharan Africa today, we hope to gain a better understanding of how local CS identity is being created and also to build lasting connections to such an exciting and burgeoning innovation system,” he adds.

ASU, SRP partner to research renewable energy, conservation

September 25, 2013

Salt River Project (SRP) and the Conservation and Renewable Energy Collaboratory (CREC) at ASU’s College of Technology and Innovation (CTI) have partnered for a second year to award a $170,000 grant to fund research initiatives in renewable energy and conservation.

This year the SRP-CREC research program selected four projects for funding. Projects include: reliability and performance testing of batteries in hot and dry climates; solar hot water system testing and evaluation; use of algae for bioremediation of water; and evaluation of solar photovoltaic performance and degradation. Download Full Image

“CTI faculty and students collaboratively work with our industry partners like SRP to define important, use-inspired research problems,” said Mitzi Montoya, vice provost and dean of the college. “Industry partners like SRP are the foundation of the college and provide an important component of our project-based learning and applied research model.”

In addition to its sponsorship of the CREC research program, SRP has been a long-standing supporter and sponsor of the iProjects program at the college. The program pairs students with mentors and companies to find solutions to real-world challenges. This year, two student teams will work on projects that will benefit SRP and the electric utility industry.

One team will develop an electrical model that will allow the utility industry to better plan for and forecast the impact of distributed generation and energy storage methods on high penetration utility systems. A second team will work to develop a portable battery impedance tester for battery technicians to monitor battery state of health on solar installations and substations.

“During our partnership with CTI, we have engaged in innovative research with talented faculty and students on important issues affecting SRP and our customers,” said John Sullivan, SRP’s associate general manager and chief resources executive. “We are pleased with the collaborative relationship that SRP is developing with CTI and we look forward to continuing to develop this important partnership in the coming year.” 

Use of algae for bioremediation of water:

Researcher: Milt Sommerfeld

Maintenance and regulation of water quality is an essential tenet of environmental sustainability. This project investigates the feasibility of utilizing algae to capture contaminants from water and wastewater. The project will also evaluate whether the resultant algae can be converted into a usable biomass product such as fuel, feed or fertilizer. The research will be conducted at the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation, ASU’s state-of-the-art algae test center. 

Solar hot water system testing and evaluation:

Researchers: Brad Rogers and John Rajadas

Over the past three years, SRP and ASU have co-developed a testing facility at the Polytechnic campus to study the performance of solar thermal hot water systems in a desert climate. The primary goals of the research are to determine how much energy can be saved using these systems and to assess the challenges that might be encountered in operating and maintaining the systems over time. This year, researchers will continue to evaluate the performance of commercially available solar hot water systems over a full annual solar cycle.

Evaluation of long-term solar system performance:

Researcher: Govindasamy Tamizhmani

As the number of solar photovoltaic system installations continues to rise, the measurement and prediction of their performance, reliability and availability is becoming more critically important to installers, integrators, investors and owners. Researchers at ASU’s Photovoltaic Reliability Laboratory are developing a model to predict the performance of photovoltaic systems over their life span. The researchers are using data collected from actual photovoltaic system installations to build their model. With a better understanding of how the performance of the systems changes over time, investors and owners will be able to more effectively plan for maintenance and more accurately assess the overall economics of these systems.

Reliability and performance evaluation of batteries in a desert climate:

Researchers: Arunachalanadar Madakannan, Nathan Johnson, Scott Pollat

Batteries represent a promising technology for the storage of energy generated by intermittent resources, such as wind farms and solar plants. To maximize the performance and life span of a battery, it is important to be able to assess its state-of-charge and state-of-health. At elevated temperatures like those in desert climates, states of extremely high or low state-of-charge can lead to irreversible damage in the battery. The focus of this research is to correlate performance measurements typically collected to evaluate battery life to state-of-charge and state-of-health values, so that a more complete picture of a battery’s overall status at a given time can be assessed. Researchers are also working to develop a field tester that measures state-of-charge and state-of-health values, which will allow operators to more effectively manage battery systems.