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SU student off to University of Cambridge on Gates Cambridge scholarship
Author: Faculty of Science (media and communication)
Published: 18/04/2023

Gregor Feierabend, a postgraduate student in mathematics and computer science at Stellenbosch University (SU), has been awarded a Gates Cambridge scholarship to pursue his MPhil in Computer Science at the University of Cambridge.

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship programme is the University of Cambridge's flagship international postgraduate scholarship proramme. According to a media release the programme was established in 2000 through a US$210 million donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This remains the largest single donation to a university in the United Kingdom.

Gregor, who originally hails from a small town near the Baltic Sea in northern Germany, has a special historical link with Stellenbosch University. His grandfather, Kurt-Rüdiger Kannenberg, was a mathematics lecturer at SU from 1960 until his death at age 43 in 1971. During this time, he supervised Henda Swart, the first student to obtain a PhD in mathematics at Stellenbosch University in 1971.

“My grandfather also used to work with the university's first IBM computer in the late 1960s. Even though I never met him personally, he is one of the reasons why I came to study mathematics at Stellenbosch," Gregor explains.

After completing school in Germany, Gregor first worked as a craftsman and social worker for a couple of years as he could not envision a career path in mathematics that would also involve creative work or have any social aspects. As a student at Stellenbosch University, however, he discovered how limited this view was: “At school, the focus lay on how to use mathematics, but at university, I learned how to do mathematics. Doing mathematics is, in fact, a very creative process, often of a collaborative nature," he explains.

In general, he enjoys thinking deeply and thoroughly about a topic at hand: “Mathematical thinking aligns very well with this and structures the thought process. Mathematics is both a tool and a field of research that is philosophically appealing and practically applicable. Computer science started as a branch of mathematics but has become independent of it. Nevertheless, mathematics is the foundation of all computer science, and it is this foundation that I am interested in."

He is excited to be part of the Gates Cambridge class of 2023: “The Gates Cambridge Trust offers many opportunities to interact with other scholars and to contribute in different ways. I think receiving an education comes with the responsibility to share knowledge and give something back to society. I can see myself thriving in such an environment and want to become part of this community."

His supervisor at Cambridge will be Prof. Marcelo Fiore, a researcher in the mathematical foundations of computer science. Gregor explains: “To think abstractly means to identify the essence of an idea and generalise concepts. The more general a theory, the wider its application in the real world. The fields I am currently most interested in are formal languages and proof assistants. Formal languages are encountered everywhere in computer science, in programming languages or network protocols. Proof assistants use mathematical logic to prove statements about software or network protocols. For example, one can verify the correctness of an end-to-end encryption protocol of instant messengers using such tools," he explains.

“Technology is all around us and used in nearly every academic discipline. Our everyday lives become increasingly dependent on it. I aim to make technology more secure and reliable by furthering research about the topics above," he concludes.