Simon Ndiritu


MSc Astrophysics

University of Manchester


Could you tell us a bit about your background, prior to coming to the UK? 

I studied electrical and electronic engineering in Kenya and specialized in telecommunication systems. After completing my undergraduate degree, I worked as a junior electronics engineer for two years. Later, I quit my full time job to work as a freelance electronics engineer. It was while working as a freelancer that I realized that the demand for data scientists was growing exponentially. That is when I started looking for opportunities that would enable me to acquire AI and big data skills. 


Please tell us about your MSc studies and the direction of your research.

My research at the University of Manchester was focussed on the use of machine learning for reconstructing missing data. I developed a novel algorithm for imputing missing polarization data based on Gaussian Processes. In addition, I developed a scalable version of the algorithm to cater for huge data sets such as those we expect from today’s advanced telescopes. I also had an opportunity to visit my co-supervisor, Prof David Tabb, in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University for an introductory course in bioinformatics.


What are you currently doing now that you have finished your studies, and what are your plans? 

I am currently pursuing my PhD at the Max Planck Institute in Munich, Germany. I am researching the use of numerical modelling for studying the structural and statistical properties of cosmic magnetic fields. At the moment, I am developing a Bayesian-based method for reconstructing the magnetic properties of a lensed polarized source.




What started your interest in astronomy and data science? 

My interest in the Universe and astrophysical objects started while I was still in primary school. I grew up in a village that was not connected to the power grid and the skies were amazing at night. In high school, my interests started shifting towards electronic systems and this influenced me to study electrical engineering. My childhood curiosity in astrophysical objects was reignited in 2017 when I attended astronomy training organised by the DARA Project. During this training, I was introduced to telescope technologies and data processing. I also learnt that arrays of telescopes generate massive volumes of data and advanced technologies are employed to capture and process them. 


What would your dream job be, and where?

After finishing my PhD, I plan to go back to Kenya and look for a position in a research institute. 


What accomplishment are you most proud of so far?

Switching fields, completing my MSc and obtaining good grades are my top accomplishments so far. I had set for myself challenging goals and I am proud of my progress.


What advantages do you think there are for students with machine learning skills, particularly in Africa?

Machine learning, and artificial intelligence in general, is transforming nearly every facet of today’s societies. African countries, unlike developed countries, are lagging behind in exploiting the immense potential of this technology. This means that there are many opportunities in Africa just waiting for people with expertise in machine learning and deep learning to unlock and exploit them.


What did you enjoy most about the UK while you were studying here?

The exposure I got while studying at the University of Manchester is priceless. Through interactions with other students and researchers, I was able to learn various new and emerging AI and big data technologies. With this exposure, I am now able to identify unexploited opportunities around me and beyond. 

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Simon on campus at the University of Manchester