EARTH, OCEANS AND SKIES

Insights from selected, outstanding African women scientists

 

A book that sets itself apart by deviating from predominant models of presenting scientists. Most such accounts are staged from the author’s perspective, are often highly coloured, larger-than-life personas are created and the excitement of scientific discovery is obscured.

In contrast, we have aimed to accord agency to the scientists and to hero their science. Thus, Earth, Oceans and Skies is autobiographical, where the scientists tell their own lives as they see themselves and their existence in the world of science. We recognize and embrace the subjectivity of autobiography; indeed it is in the biases of this approach that the strength of this book lies. 

The self-history, self-portrayal and self-analysis of our narrators form a prism that allows us to see how their journeys mirror, not just the scientific world, but our societies and our own lives. In their self- reflection we see not hyperbolic individuals but relatable achievers. These stories take us to the centre of the scientific enterprise, submerging us into a world far more immediate than we would have imagined.

Chapter 1: Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change
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Chapter 1 consists of stories of six scientists: Maria Andrade; Segenet Kelemu; Aster Gebrekirstos; Alsácia Atanásio; Isabelle Adolé Glitho-Akueson and Catherine Nakalembe, who have contributed to the fields of plant breeding and food biofortification; plant pathology, biosciences and insect sciences; dendrochronology; animal parasitology; integrated pest management; and geoinformation and remote sensing.

Chapter 2: Health

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Chapter 2 features eight scientists. Two of them: Judith Sèdaminou Gbenoudon (Benin) and Faith Osier (Kenya) are working on malaria, with research on the development of a vaccine, the disease’s immunology, and improved treatment options. Two scientists, Aminata Sall Diallo (Senegal) and Priscilla Kolibea Mante (Ghana), are advancing the fight against two neglected diseases; hepatitis and epilepsy. Two scientists are frontrunners: Habiba Bouhamed Chaabouni (Tunisia) in medical genetics, and Francine Ntoumi (Republic of Congo) in public health research and capacity strengthening. Folasade Ogunsola (Nigeria) is contributing to the institutionalization of infection prevention and control approach in health care in Africa. And and Uduak Okomo (Nigeria), is conducting research on newborn health and the impact of infections on neonatal mortality.

Chapter 3: Earth, Oceans and Skies

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Chapter 3 features six scientists. Two of them, Merieme Chadid and Zara Randriamanakoto, invite us into the wonder and awe of astronomy and the exhilarating insights on some of the big questions about our universe. Evelyne Isaack Mbede and Hassina Mouri are both geologists whose research is helping us to strike a balance between health and wealth in the fascinating, complex and dynamic geologic heritage of Africa. Chandani Appadoo, marine scientist, allows us to dive deep into the fauna and flora of the Indian Ocean, helping translate the concept of the blue economy into a reality. Fadji Maina is using supercomputers to create an atlas of water movement.  

Chapter 4: Materials Science

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Chapter 4 consists of the stories of three scientists. Two of them are exploring humankind’s fascination with light. Tebello Nyokong, is using laser technology and nanotechnology to address challenges in health, most notably, the development of photodynamic therapy for cancer, and safe water. Gihan Kamel, has proven the utility of infrared microspectroscopy in biomedicine and bioarcheology. And Florence Uphie Chinje has influenced materials engineering in her country and across Africa.  

Special Mentions

The Special (posthumous) mention section includes five scientists: Gita Ramjee (8 April 1956–31 March 2020), who was a Ugandan-South African scientist and researcher and Chief Scientific Officer in HIV prevention at the Aurum Institute in Johannesburg, South Africa. Margaret Mungherera (25 October 1957–4 February 2017) was Senior Consultant Psychiatrist at Mulago National Referral Hospital in her native Uganda. Karimat El-Sayed (10 December 1933–2019) was a distinguished Egyptian academic and crystallographer with a long career in physics and the scientific education of women in Arabic-speaking countries. Patricia (Pat) Berjak (29 December 1939–21 January 2015) was a prominent South African scientist and world leader in the study of seeds. Wangarĩ Muta Maathai (1 April 1940–25 September 2011) was a Kenyan social, environmental and political activist and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.