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Education Science

Hawking Searching For Africa's Einsteins 276

Posted by kdawson
from the where-you-find-them dept.
nuke-alwin writes "Stephen Hawking has traveled to South Africa in search of Africa's Einsteins. The project will create Africa's first post-graduate center for math and physics. The British government has unfortunately decided not to back the project, which is hoping to fight poverty by identifying the kind of talent that can create wealth." Neil Turok is deeply involved as well; he was recently named to head the Perimeter Institute in Canada, whose server we brought to its knees this morning.
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Hawking Searching For Africa's Einsteins

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  • Niel Turok (Score:5, Funny)

    by moderatorrater (1095745) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @04:19PM (#23395230)
    Niel Turok was quoted as saying, "I'll also help defend the starving African children from rampaging dinosaurs, free of charge."
  • by CogDissident (951207) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @04:24PM (#23395296)
    So, if these math geniuses get a degree there, whats to keep them from just moving out of country? Nothing? Honestly, if I were born in an absolutely impoverished country, and ended up being a genius and getting a graduate degree in mathematics, I'm sure I'd hop on the first chance at a big corporate job in some other country.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @04:33PM (#23395398)
      Because they're not tools. I know many Indian (real India) and Chinese nationals who plan to move back to their "impoverished" countries to work and play.
    • by yodleboy (982200) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @04:33PM (#23395400)
      that may be true, but i've notice that a lot of smart, wealthy successful people eventually "go home" in some sense, not always physically, of course. They may donate to local causes, invest, become involved in politics or advocacy. whatever they do, they probably would not have been able without opportunities like this.
    • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @04:33PM (#23395406) Homepage
      A lot of people who get big corporate jobs in wealthy countries send money back to where they came from, benefitting the local economy. Go to Moroccan villages and you can see loads of fancy houses being built by people currently working in France who plan on coming home and retiring early. Software engineers from India who have come to the U.S. after training in India have gone home after a few years and founded companies with the money they saved. Cities in Romania like Cluj enjoy higher standards of living than other parts of the country because, thanks to the good education and English-language skills, people work hard abroad and then come back to indulge themselves. The list goes on and on. If you train people in a poor country, many will go and never return. However, some will make something of themselves abroad with their education and come back, which is a win for the local economy.
      • by CogDissident (951207) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @04:58PM (#23395810)
        Not as much of a win as keeping them in-country the entire time. The countries still loose out overall. They're starting with college degrees already, and these people could help significantly by being engineers and such in their home countries.

        Honestly, I don't begrudge them wanting better for themselves and their family if they send money home (would do the same myself), I'm just looking at it from a national perspective.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          They are only more of an asset to their country by staying home, if the countries problems can be solved with math. Brilliant engineering isn't going to make Darfur a good place to live. Ethiopia's famines are not brought on by a lack of agricultural knowledge. Proving corruption mathematically isn't going to make corrupt government officials suddenly altruistic.
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by LurkerXD (996914)
            But that brings another point - having a more educated populace tends to help with governmental problems as well. The reason being, smarter people are in a lot better equipped to notice and speak out when their government is screwing them. Also, assuming they do go elsewhere to make their fortunes, they then have financial resources to potentially do something about the issue.
        • by corbettw (214229) <corbettw@y a h o o . c om> on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @09:57PM (#23398410) Journal

          Not as much of a win as keeping them in-country the entire time.
          Except that impoverished countries are missing another critical element to escaping poverty: capital. When their best and brightest go forth and earn lots of money, then either send it home or come back, it acts as a catalyst that can fuel further development.

          Even in countries with lots of natural resources (Nigeria, for example), there's very little if any capital floating around. You can't expect someone to create a multi-billion dollar company from scratch.
    • by Morris Thorpe (762715) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @04:39PM (#23395494)
      That's you - and many others I'm sure.

      You don't know what it's like to grow up in an impoverished country. Hence you don't know what it's like to hurt for your country and to have a sense of duty to make it better.

      Also, just because the talent is exported, people can still do great things to enable others to become great. You see this in soccer all the time. African talent is being exported to the top clubs in Europe but many players go back home to establish soccer academies, schools and the like.

      Hats off to Hawking.
      • by puto (533470)
        What impoverished country are you from?

        And if you are, how long did you live there, and where are you now and how long have you been there?

        Many people who make it big do go home to help, but it is do to tax breaks and PR ops. There is very little altruism involved. I am not saying there are not good people out there, but money and fame tend to make you forget where you come from.

        I grew up in New Orleans, which is the third world, and my dad is from Colombia. I go to Colombia and live for six months to a
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by 0111 1110 (518466)
          Ah. Locombia. My favorite Latin American country. Where the girls are pretty and the people are some of the nicest and friendliest on Earth. Living in the USA is good for making and spending money (the internet!!), but it's not so good for just living your life. If you just want to be happy and are not very materialistic I think Colombia is a much better place to live. Of course it sucks to only get paid $10/day. But I think many Colombians would be unhappy here. There are any number of third world countrie
    • by edisrafeht (1199347) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @04:40PM (#23395508)
      Whether they go back home or not is not as important as providing the opportunity for these gifted individuals. They may still contribute something to the world, regardless of their location.
    • by MightyYar (622222) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @04:44PM (#23395598)
      I personally know someone who attended a good college here in the states, got a job with MS back in the late 80s/early 90s, cashed out, and moved back to Africa to found a college.

      Some people do genuinely have a feeling of responsibility.

      That aside, it is an established fact that people living outside impoverished areas send a lot of money back home. In some countries, this is the primary source of foreign currency.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by nxsty (942984)
      Perhaps you'd feel some kind of loyalty to the country where you where born? If I where in that situation I'd probably try to do something to help the country rather than just leave.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Nibbler999 (1101055)
        Maybe in western countries, but in less advantaged places people have the opinion that their country has not done anything to help them so they owe it nothing.
      • by klagermkii (791101) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @06:19PM (#23396808)

        Despite how people play the "brain drain" story, how many people in any country even feel that the job they're doing REALLY benefits their country directly? Sure you may feel you're benefiting your company/boss, but your contribution feels so diluted by the time it reaches the country level it doesn't even matter.

        One can talk about "some kind of loyalty to the country" but calling that into question based on taking a overseas job because you want better pay to help support yourself and your family is utterly unfair. We all want to see our country do well, but sometimes you can help more by becoming an export that keeps paying the country back. If you want to use nonsense metrics to compare ones sense of civic duty, why don't you compare voter turnout: US voter turnout in 2004 was 56%, compared to South Africa at 77%.

        (I am South African, I have worked in the UK, I am now living back in South Africa and did bring money back.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Cairnarvon (901868)
      I'm sure the family you leave behind in said poverty would love you for it, too. Nobody grows up in a vacuum.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JaredOfEuropa (526365)

      So, if these math geniuses get a degree there, whats to keep them from just moving out of country? Nothing? Honestly, if I were born in an absolutely impoverished country, and ended up being a genius and getting a graduate degree in mathematics, I'm sure I'd hop on the first chance at a big corporate job in some other country.

      Would you? Perhaps for a while; a good many graduates from both first and third world countries fancy the idea of working abroad for a while. But not many people have the blood to

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by OeLeWaPpErKe (412765)
      Because -as hard as it may be to believe this for you- some people actually have an attachment to their birth country.

      Why ? Because big corporate jobs are lonely, strange and unfulfilling. A wife and family in your birth country is what most prefer.

      And some people have morals and see that as a chance to give back.

      Or they get older and take a teaching position in their home country.

      Lots of reasons.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by k33l0r (808028)
      Actually a lot of people living in poorer countries would like to help their own country. In fact a lot of the foreign students studying with me (here in Finland) ultimately wish to return to their home countries.

      Just 'cause you're a selfish bastard, doesn't mean that everybody else is.

      What's more, most of the big corps are eager to get to the up and coming markets of developing nations.
    • by the brown guy (1235418) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @06:01PM (#23396604) Journal

      I'd hop on the first chance at a big corporate job in some other country.
      In my village in Northern India, more and more people are moving back to the village, after going to universities in Canada, the USA and England, and having become (relatively) rich. My dad is a first generation immigrant to Canada from India, and we are a middle class family, my dad drives a taxi (I know, stereotypical,) and my mom works in a bank. My dad just went back to India last month to build 4 3 story houses in our village, one for him (when he goes back) and 3 for his brothers and their families. A little money goes a long way in these impoverished regions, and not only does this stimulate the local economy with all the construction, but when I went there my dad paid for a year of broadband internet for the local school, and I am saving up for a dozen or so cheap desktop computers to bring there next time I go.
      The point is that when people go back to the poor areas where they or their ancestors grew up, the feel a duty to improve the quality of life for the residents there.
      The lucky few that get out, generally will try and make it easier for others to get out, and as time goes on the quality of life can only get better.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ppanon (16583)
        The philanthropy is also just a smart move. If you've acquired a lot of riches and move into an impoverished area, you'll be a big target for any of the less ethical elements of the population. If you've spread enough of your money around in good works in your neighbourhood, then you'll have acquired a good reputation. People will look more favourably on you and will be more likely to provide support if you become a target of criminal elements. It's a lot harder for a criminal to portray himself as Robin Ho
        • by the brown guy (1235418) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @12:37AM (#23399204) Journal
          One of the issues that I have with my dad building the houses etc is that there will still be people who are basically servants, who are of a lower caste. We are traditionally farmers, Jatts, and are normally pretty average on the caste hierarchy, but because so many Jatts moved to Canada/England and the US, they have become more affluent and returned with their newfound riches to try and better the lives of the people who can't leave. I would like to say that there is no classism, but classist undertones are felt throughout the community. The kids of all castes go to school together, there are affirmative action-like programs to try and get people of lower castes to get government jobs (where they will probably become corrupt/rich, the dream of way too many Indians.)
          My close family is comparatively liberal and accepting, but far from perfect. My uncle married a white woman, I have some cousins who are half Filipino etc, but inter caste marriages are hard to come by, personally, I would try and avoid "shaming" my family, because I know that my extended family would be pissed, and being alienated is basically a guarantee.
    • by LWATCDR (28044)
      What is to prevent them from sitting around and doing nothing?
      Some will get out and never look back. Some will go and work someplace else and send money back. Some will leave and work someplace else and then go back. Some will stay and become teachers or start there own companies.
      The thing is that more educated people should make the whole world better. It will probably make some African nations better.
      But as they say on Long Island. It can't hurt.

    • Yes many would leave. But typically what they do they send money back home. And then there are the really smart ones. they find ways to make maoney right at home by building solar heating systemd from junk or something along those lines
    • by FLEB (312391)
      It's a jumpstart, and certainly better than either doing nothing or sinking money into "give a man a fish, feed him for one day" type aid. Even people who leave would be more likely to send money, start projects, or focus valuable influence toward their homeland.
  • Neil Turok is deeply involved as well; he was recently named to head the Perimeter Institute in Canada, whose server we brought to its knees this morning.


    go in search of africa's einsteins, find africa's botlords?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Hawking finds some African math guy [slashdot.org].
  • If he's looking to create wealth, he needs to be looking for an African Warren Buffet.
    • by qbzzt (11136)
      He's Hawking, identifying investment talent is not one of his skills.

      The whole fighting poverty line is probably just marketing. It's a good thing to help potential brilliant scientists, but the economic payoff can often decades or centuries in the future and it will be reaped by whoever develops the technology that uses the science.

      To fight poverty, you need to encourage business initiative [grameen-info.org], which gives a much faster payoff.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sm62704 (957197)
      Some of us prize knowledgs and wisdom far more than money. Not everyone worships at the alter af mammon.
    • I was going to point out something like that too, but you beat me to it. Still, I'll point out another angle:

      It's true: Einstein didn't make much money for himself. In fact, the statue of him in Washington DC looks like a homeless man.

      But "didn't create wealth?" I'd say that in the bigger picture, he did create wealth -- even under the narrow economic definition, "wealth = money." His theories have advanced technology and helped society to create a great deal more wealth: GPS for instance has obviou

  • Remind me again... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Facetious (710885) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @04:26PM (#23395326) Journal
    Where did Einstein do his post-graduate work?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ppanon (16583)
      He didn't. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in physics from ETH Zurich. But so what if he didn't have a graduate degree?

      It was 1900, and most of what was known then about about physics (and much that wasn't known then) is now taught in the first three years of bachelor's in physics. The field has advanced substantially since, so that you now need to learn more than what's in an undergraduate curriculum before you reach the bounds of knowledge and can add to it. Such was not the case in 1900.

      Maybe Hawki
  • Watson (Score:2, Insightful)

    by philspear (1142299)

    Turok and Hawking hope that Aimss students will help to overturn the negative stereotypes of Africa that were recently given expression by James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA.

    Not to go off on a tangent, but I wouldn't call Watson the "co-discovererer of DNA," for two reasons.

    1. My understanding of research history was that DNA was discovered long before, and also long before was identified as the genetic material.
    2. He likely didn't even co-discover the STRUCTURE of DNA so much as steal credit for that f

  • The purpose? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @04:30PM (#23395366)
    If the purpose is to somehow stimulate the local economy, I think it would make more sense to help build and expand the underlying infrastructure that would eventually lead to the desire to have top math/science experts in the region. Otherwise they will most likely just move somewhere where they're actually wanted and can be sufficiently compensated. Is there a need for physics experts when the region is severely lacking in agriculture?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by magarity (164372)
      Exactly - they need civil engineers and agriculturalists, not physicists. Sounds like this project is a symptom of 'when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail'-itis though the principals do have good intentions and it probably will help some individuals move up and out.
      • by jedidiah (1196)
        Yes, because we all know that they NEVER use physics in the engineering disciplines.
        • by magarity (164372)
          Physics PhD's do research. Civil engineers use physics in calculations to design infrastructure. Which activity is more needed in impoverished countries? Thanks for trying to be sarcastic.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Deadplant (212273)
        sooo, British physicists should go to Africa and teach farming? .... or just stay put and shut up?

        We can all contribute with our own skills.

        The idea here is not to create an economic effect. That is secondary.

        The point of the project is to find and empower the brilliant potential mathematicians and physicists in this poorly served region. The purpose of finding and empowering these people is to empower the human race and to advance our knowledge and understanding of the universe.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Not quite sure why people assume all of the Africa is starving or lacks critical infrastructure. Take a look at the pictures on the wikipedia entry for Johannesburg, for comparison sake. There are definitely places in Africa where physicists, engineers and scientists of all types can, and are, earning a decent living.
      • by azaris (699901)

        Not quite sure why people assume all of the Africa is starving or lacks critical infrastructure. Take a look at the pictures on the wikipedia entry for Johannesburg, for comparison sake.

        Would that be the "most dangerous city in the world with respect to street crime" [reuters.com] Johannesburg? Hardly a place where international researchers would flock to live and work in.

        I've also heard Internet connections are plentiful and inexpensive in Mogadishu [bbc.co.uk], but I wouldn't start a research center there.

  • by eln (21727) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @04:38PM (#23395478) Homepage
    If Hawking wants to get money for this sort of thing, he needs to make it into a reality show and get a TV network on board. Some ideas:

    Africa's Next Top Physicist. Every week, contestants will be tasked with solving a major problem in physics. Their efforts will be judged by a panel led by Hawking, using Tyra Banks as a body double. The loser will be eliminated from the competition and thrown into the African savanna, where he will be eaten by a lion.

    African Idol: Physics edition. Auditions will be held in various tribal areas throughout Africa. Hilarity will ensue as the ever-caustic Hawking mocks contestants' failures to adequately explain string theory. Losers will be thrown into the African savanna, where they will be eaten by lions.

    Deriving With the Physicists. Contestants will be paired up with professional physicists and tasked to derive the Unified Field Theory. Each week, progress will be gaged by a panel of judges. Losers will be thrown into the African savanna, where the lions, fully sated from contestants from the earlier shows, will ignore them. They will then be shot by poachers.

    Survivor: Africa. Contestants will spend the entire show dealing with extreme heat, drought, and the ever-present threat of starvation and disease while trying to scrape up enough money to attend school while keeping his family fed and not dying from malaria. The one who can manage to survive long enough to attend a post-graduate physics program wins.
    • Funny with a realistic and sad twist. Brillant post. Thread over, you may all go home.
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    • by kabocox (199019)
      If Hawking wants to get money for this sort of thing, he needs to make it into a reality show and get a TV network on board. Some ideas:

      The really sad thing is that it would work. O.k. remove the feeding them to the lions if they do wrong. I think it was a Saturday night live where they were just offering bags of food to those that got it right. Well, offer a years supply of food for those that win the chemistry, math, physics, or what ever other subjects that you want them to compete in. I don't know how m
    • by ross.w (87751)
      there is the 419 alternative... Dear sir, I hope you will forgive me for writing to you like this but I was assured that you would be interested in a mutually beneficial business proposition. etc. etc.
  • No more Einstein's (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sweetser (148397) <sweetser@alum.mit.edu> on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @04:48PM (#23395668) Homepage
    There was one Einstein, there will not be another, ever. Nor will there be another Newton, Maxwell, Bohr, Dirac, Feynman, Weinberg, or Hawking. Very accomplished folks, but all over the place with their personalities, like how they would be in a bar (a topless bar if it was Feynman).

    I support the project, not the marketing of the project.
  • That's the most stunning part. I would never have guessed that Africa was so backward that it didn't have so much as one math or physics post grad center in the whole dang continent. While there isn't anything like the LHC or Fermilab, seems there has to be more to Africa than the headline suggests.
  • by Tablizer (95088) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @04:54PM (#23395726) Homepage Journal
    I doubt he will find much because it is such an undernourished and politically unstable place on the whole. You likely need a large population of relatively healthy people in order to produce sufficient geniuses. Poorly-fed brains with too few toys are not likely to end up at the top. Einstein traced his thought process back to a compass that his dad gave him.

    If only say 10 percent of Africa's population fits that bill, then you'd get about 10% of the hits compared to a similar population of mostly middle-class countries. This is not being racist, but merely observing the health of Africa's population as it is.
         
    • by crazybit (918023) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @06:29PM (#23396908)
      Many exceptional athletes: soccer players (Didier Drogba), marathon runners, sprint runners, long distance jumpers, etc. come from Africa.

      If their eating habits didn't stop them from becoming champions, why should the same food affect possible geniuses?
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by ppanon (16583)
        Brain development is extremely dependent on good nutrition in the first few years of life. Malnutrition is common in many parts of Africa with periodic famines in such areas as the horn.

        On the other hand, in a continent where there is (relatively) little motorized transportation and walking is a primary mode of transportation. travelling on foot is a basic survival tool and the body naturally directs its energies to that purpose because it gets significant use. It therefore shouldn't be surprising to find a
    • by quantaman (517394)

      I doubt he will find much because it is such an undernourished and politically unstable place on the whole. You likely need a large population of relatively healthy people in order to produce sufficient geniuses. Poorly-fed brains with too few toys are not likely to end up at the top. Einstein traced his thought process back to a compass that his dad gave him.

      If only say 10 percent of Africa's population fits that bill, then you'd get about 10% of the hits compared to a similar population of mostly middle-class countries. This is not being racist, but merely observing the health of Africa's population as it is.

      The population of Africa is a bit under 1 billion, there are still 100 million Africans who fit that bill.

      Far more than health I'm worried first about the intellectual climate, and the mechanisms for picking out the real smart ones. I know there are a lot of African countries with substantial middle classes, who should have the mechanisms to stimulate the young brains. But I don't know if the culture is one that will foster that stimulation, or the career lines such that those young brains can be picked ou

  • Thanks a lot you crippled bastard!
  • by crazybit (918023) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @04:58PM (#23395802)
    New studies show there is more genetic diversity between humans in Africa:

    http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1288178 [nih.gov]
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/050310103042.htm [sciencedaily.com]
    http://www.science.psu.edu/alert/Tishkoff1-1999.htm [psu.edu]

    It might be easier to find a genius among very different subjects, than finding one in a group where everybody is similar.

    Hawking is a genius
  • by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp.Gmail@com> on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @05:16PM (#23396038) Homepage Journal
    Look, I'm all for helping Africa get great colleges and postgrad institutions. It's a good thing, and certainly can't hurt. But if these people think that a postgrad center for math and physics is going to help pump great wealth into Africa, I'm afraid they'll be dissapointed. They'd be better off building business and engineering institutes. People like Patrice Motsepe [forbes.com] will do far more to bring wealth to Africa than someone like Hawking.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by quantaman (517394)

      Look, I'm all for helping Africa get great colleges and postgrad institutions. It's a good thing, and certainly can't hurt. But if these people think that a postgrad center for math and physics is going to help pump great wealth into Africa, I'm afraid they'll be dissapointed. They'd be better off building business and engineering institutes. People like Patrice Motsepe will do far more to bring wealth to Africa than someone like Hawking.

      Certainly a postgraduate institution alone won't solve all the problems but I do think it will help more than you expect.

      I suspect one thing sorely missing in a lot of Africa right now is pride. Political strife, poverty, and lack of education are common, it seems the only thing African nations can occasionally succeed at on a world stage is athletics.

      If they do get a real legitimate world-class research institution I think it gives two main effects. First is pride, they see an African research institution

  • by kiatoa (66945) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @05:19PM (#23396086) Homepage
    It is kind of like trying to cure a broken leg with antibiotics. You might need the antibiotics but you'd really better get a splint on there first.

    I.e. start by identifying the **real** root cause and work on that.
  • My browser width meant the first line happened to break after "Africa's first post-", leading me ever-so-briefly to ponder "What's so special about African first posts?"
  • Would anyone have looked in the patent office in Switzerland in 1904?
  • I certainly hope for his sake that Hawkings doesn't fall prey to some 419 scammers [wikipedia.org].
  • The OLPC was designed to be an Einstein detector, IMHO.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Kenshin (43036)
      Does it start flashing when one is detected, and does a helicopter land outside shortly after that?
  • What I really want to know is if it's really Stephen Hawking [youtube.com] in this ad or if it's someone else. (near the end, a quick camio, right after Adam sets Jamie's arm on fire with a blow torch.)

    .

    I can see Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman doing this ad, and I can see where having Stephen Hawking would totally rock, but I can't quite wrap my mind around Dr. Hawking having such a... flexable sense of humor. One doesn't expect to see someone with that amount of sheer brain power to have feet of clay... or even a sense

  • Dr. Livingston, I presume?

    No, generally, I'm relatively sure I'm Al Einstein. You haven't seen that Hawking fellow have you. I heard he was looking for me, and figured he'd never find me here! You won't tell him will you?
  • by AHuxley (892839) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @01:42AM (#23399486) Homepage Journal
    "first post-graduate centre for maths and physics"
    South Africa built a few air drop nukes and maybe tested one too.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Africa_and_weapons_of_mass_destruction [wikipedia.org]
    They also built Secunda, a neat coal-to-liquids plant.

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