The Seed State of Science 2008

Seed's inaugural edition of the State of Science explores the current scientific landscape and its emergent hotspots—along with the motivations and ambitions of the individuals charting its future.

Read more Seed State of Science 2008

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Abuja, Nigeria
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Akosa Collins Ashu

  • Age: 24
  • Occupation: Masters student in applied mathematics and theoretical physics, African University of Science and Technology
  • Why I Do Science: Sir Cyril Herman Hinshelwood defined science as "an imaginative adventure of the mind seeking truth in a world of mystery." I am amazed by the complexity of nature and love exploring the creative aspects of problemsolving. Whether I choose to do science or science chooses me remains a question. But the fact that I study the sciences I do—mathematics, physics, chemistry—has not always being the choice of my friends and dear ones. They consider me as "taking the path of poverty" and ending up as a professor, among the least paid in the society from which I come. This sometimes affects my ambition of becoming a great scientist, but I usually overcome this with the motivation of doing what I like doing. And I will consider it the greatest achievement if by becoming a great scientist I can not only help others, but can help others become great scientists, too.
  • Person I'd Most Like to Meet: Nelson Mandela, for coming up with a vision for African science from which I am now benefiting
  • Scientist I'd Most Like to Meet: Marie Curie
  • When I Was Little, I Wanted to Be: A pilot
  • What's on My Nightstand: The Bible

The next Einstein can be African. That's the mission of the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), which opened this summer in the Nigerian capital. With close ties to AIMS-Cape Town, launched by Cambridge cosmologist Neil Turok in 2003, the new postgraduate hub will ultimately be part of a network of 17 centers across the continent, training Africa's brightest young theoreticians.

AIMS-Abuja is based at the African University of Science and Technology (AUST), which opened earlier this year. Cofunded by the World Bank and the Nigerian government, the university kicks off a much-anticipated plan to seed sub-Saharan economic development with a pan-African network of AUST campuses. AUST-Abuja will accept top-performing high school students from across the continent and steer them towards careers in engineering, computer science, and materials science. Its goal: "to graduate students who will become leaders, not followers, job creators, not job seekers, and agents for positive change."

For a region whose scientific aspirations have been hampered by slack funding, AUST-Abuja's public-private model mirrors the partnerships increasingly fueling the world's scientific hubs. Construction is already underway on the surrounding Abuja Technology Village, a 1,000-hectare park for business and commercial development.

Abuja is also home to Nigeria's space and satellite program, which plans to put a man on the Moon by 2030. Indeed, many Nigerians are optimistic that their newly elected president and vice president, who both hold advanced science degrees, will prioritize science in their administration. So far, signs have been good. Though faced with many basic concerns—clean drinking water, energy infrastructure, refrigeration—both men have been emphatic about the need to fund R&D and to cultivate an indigenous corps of scientists. If the next Einstein is indeed African, he or she may well have passed through Abuja.—Maywa Montenegro

Seed 19

Emergent Science City: Abjuja, Nigeria
Posted November 20, 2008
Originally appeared in Seed 19

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