Ismail Akhalwaya  Ismail Akhalwaya photo         

contact information

Research Scientist
IBM Research - Africa


Professional Associations

Professional Associations:  South African Institute of Physics: CERTIFIED PROFESSIONAL PHYSICISTS (Pr.Phys)


To contribute to the expanding horizon of a humanity-serving Mathematics, Science and Technology knowledge-base.

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” - Carl Sagan

Education Background

"Education is the great engine of personal development." - Nelson Mandela

Ismail obtained his B.Sc. Mathematics, Physics and Computer Science (2003) and his B.Sc. Honours Mathematics of Computer Science with Physics (2004) from UCT on the beautiful foothills of Table Mountain. He then joined the Quantum Research Group (QRG) at the balmy UKZN for his M.Sc. Theoretical Physics (Quantum Computation & Information, 2006, awarded cum laude with the S2A3 Bronze Medal). Ismail was then fortunate to be awarded a Canon Collins-Mamphela Rampele Scholarship for a one year studentship (non-credit course work & intensive research) at the Centre for Quantum Computation, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge in the perpetually overcast UK. After much soul-searching, Ismail completed his Ph.D. Theoretical Physics (Classical Noise in Quantum Systems, 2014) at the QRG, UKZN.

Research Interests

“True Knowledge leads to Bliss.”

Ismail has always been fascinated with understanding the universe but also curious about the underlying philosophy, the framework and the application of that understanding. In keeping with this vision, he has chosen to explore fundamental research avenues and their applications. Hence, his study of Quantum Physics and Information Theory is an attempt to get to the “bottom of things”, while his study of Randomness (Free probability, Channel Capacity, Correlations in Big Data and Power Spectral Noise) is an attempt to apply the fundamentals to an uncertain world:

  • Decoherence, Random Matrix Theory & Free Probability (published)

  • Quantum Information: Channel Capacity (published)

  • Monte Carlo Simulations and Numerical Analysis (published)

  • Atomic Clock Noise (preparing for publication)

  • Computational Homology and Applications to Big Data

  • Quantum Foundations

IBM Research SA

"Inspired Research: Aspiring to Solve Africa's Grand Challenges."

Having experienced research in an academic setting, Ismail was curious to see it in operation in an industry context while keeping true to his passion for fundamental research. So with a stroke of immense fortune the opportunity to join the new IBM Research - Africa Lab in South Africa presented itself which Ismail excitedly embraced.

At IBM Research Ismail is engaged with three primary tasks: engage in fundamental SKA physics/astronomy research especially through a machine-learning lens, explore quantum information research and supervise/co-supervise Wits postgraduate students. To faciliate the latter the University of the Witwatersrand has appointed Ismail as a Visiting Lecturer in the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics.

On the SKA front, Ismail has forged ties with a number of SKA researchers and is currently working on Bayesian Interferometry and Unsupervised Machine Learning.


Lessons learnt from Lecturing and Outreach

"What counts in life is the difference we make to others." - Nelson Mandela

Prior to joining IBM, Ismail was a lecturer in the Department of Pure and Applied Mathematics at the University of Johannesburg. As an academic he felt that his inter-related duties were to lecture with enthusiasm, conduct meaningful research and engage in the educational upliftment of the wider community. His seven years of lecturing experience has revealed the desperate need for improvement in school mathematics and his PhD research has taught him two important oft-missing ingredients for academic progress: the joy and awe of structured knowledge and a slow, incremental and deep approach to understanding and ultimately extending that structure.

Taking these insights into his outreach activities Ismail decided to try and bring Khan Academy-equipped Raspberry Pi-LTSP-Edubuntu computer labs to township schools. Khan Academy (the free open source educational video and exercise resource) is currently the main tool in his outreach efforts. It shares his teaching philosophy of the importance of marveling (Khan's genuine passion and curiosity) at structural knowledge (the interconnected tree of knowledge) incrementally (personalized student progress exercises and tracking). However, through his outreach experiences, he has also started to appreciate the human, the socio-economic and the political dimensions of education.


compassion, creativity, curiosity, dignity, duty, intellectual & spiritual growth, humility, justice, sincerity

"I was a hidden treasure, who wished to be known."