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SU Professor appointed permanent director of NIThecs
Author: Corporate Communication and Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie en Bemarking
Published: 17/05/2024

​Prof Francesco Petruccione, Professor of Quantum Computing at Stellenbosch University (SU), has been appointed the permanent Director of the National Institute for Theoretical and Computational Sciences (NITheCS). This appointment follows his successful tenure as interim director.

NITheCS, officially launched in April 2024, is a consortium of 24 South African public universities and the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences.

Extensive network

Headquartered at SU, the Institute has five coordinating nodes across the country – at Nelson Mandela University (led by Prof Azwinndini Muronga), North-West University (led by Prof Du Toit Strauss), the University of Cape Town (led by Prof Will Horowitz), the University of KwaZulu-Natal (led by Prof Sunil Maharaj) and the University of the Witwatersrand (led by Prof João Rodrigues).

NITheCS boasts a network of approximately 300 associates, all with PhDs, conducting theoretical and computational research in eight key scientific disciplines – astronomy and astrophysics, bioinformatics and quantitative biology, data science, earth systems and climate change modelling, mathematics, quantitative finance, statistics, and theoretical physics.

“Our platform allows a diversity of knowledge fields to meet in a stimulating environment. We are working to advance humanity's fundamental understanding of the universe and lay foundations for the technology of tomorrow," says Prof Petruccione.

Career milestone

His appointment marks a significant milestone in his career, having previously served as Deputy Director of the National Institute of Theoretical Physics, which preceded NITheCS. Prof Petruccione also held a South African Research Chair in Quantum Information Processing and Communication when he was at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). He joined SU in 2022 and was appointed in its School of Data Science and Computational Thinking.

Range of activities

NITheCS, funded by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) through the National Research Foundation (NRF), has already made significant strides in organising various scientific activities and offering a bursary scheme for postgraduate studies.

At the start of the year, it presented a Coding Summer School in collaboration with the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC). Postgraduate students received tutoring in the Linux (Ubuntu) and Python programming languages.

It was an event with a difference, though. Presented in hybrid mode, sessions were streamed live to 30 campuses across South Africa and Kenya over the course of two weeks, which made it possible for more than 850 postgraduate students and researchers to attend.

Focus on Africa

One of those was Chanelle Matadah from Cameroon, who is doing a PhD in Physics at SU. She says she would like to inspire girls in her home country to take an interest in in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Uchenna Okwuosa from Nigeria, who is doing a PhD in Mechanical Engineering at the Cape University of Technology, also attended.

“I had an offer to study in Australia, but I decided against it because being on African soil focuses my mind on addressing the challenges of our continent, which is my passion," he said.

NITheCS strives to contribute to the African Union's Agenda 2063 and Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024.

Accomplished academic

Prof Petruccione, a highly accomplished academic with over 338 publications, has received widespread recognition for his contributions to science. He is an elected member of the Academy of Sciences of South Africa and a fellow of both the Royal Society of South Africa and the African Academy of Sciences.


The news has been met with enthusiasm from SU and the DSI and NRF, with all parties expressing their confidence in Prof Petruccione's ability to lead NITheCS.

SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Wim de Villiers says Prof Petruccione has had a “transformative impact on research and innovation at SU the past two years, marked by his strategic vision and prolific leadership."

He adds that Prof Petruccione's expertise “will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of quantum technologies at our university and across South Africa, further cementing SU's reputation as a leading research-intensive institution on the continent."

Prof Sibusiso Moyo, SU DVC: Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies, said she had no doubt that Prof Petruccione's appointment would “further elevate the reputation of NITheCS and its consortium member institutions to become hubs for cutting-edge research and transformative innovation as part of the South African higher education landscape."

“Your vision for the future, the clarity of your communication, the brightness of your optimism, and most of all, your kindness and warm demeanour have already impressed themselves upon the research community," reads a message from Dr Sagren Moodley, the DSI's director of basic sciences.

The NRF said it was pleased with the appointment of Petruccione, and that it looked forward to the value that he would add to South Africa's national system of innovation.

Prof Petruccione envisions NITheCS expanding to nine nodes, one in each province of South Africa, with the inclusion of all public universities nationwide. This ambitious plan is coupled with the ongoing renovation of SU's Merensky Building, which will house the new NITheCS offices, set to be ready by November 2024.