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Due to donor priorities, efforts to build science capacity in Africa have tended to focus on health and agriculture. Two South African initiatives have bucked the trend — they are home-grown, and focus on physics and mathematics.

This editorial in Nature says the National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme (NASSP) and the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) are having significant impacts in South Africa and across the continent.

The NASSP provides education and training by bringing together lecturers from various South African universities. The editorial expresses hope that the programme's students could help set up similar schemes as they return home to their own countries.

Meanwhile, since its launch in 2003, AIMS's success has sparked plans to set up 15 similar institutes across Africa in the coming five years at a cost of about US$20 million. The resulting network could train 300 postgraduate mathematicians a year.

The editorial suggests it deserves to rank alongside several "flagship" projects in biotechnology, water and IT that the New Partnership for Africa's Development is planning.

Link to full editorial in Nature