African Physics Newsletter

ASESMA Regional School on Electronic Structure Methods and Applications

A school on computational physics and chemistry in Cameroon aligning with the country needs and ressources.

Material characterization has economic and economic benefits, as well as fundamental scientific value. This urges the development of efficient and reliable means for the quantitative and qualitative description of molecular structure.

The progressive increase in computer capacity and the development of more and more sophisticated algorithms for electronic structure calculations have offered the opportunity of theoretical characterization of materials as complementary approach that allows different insights into difficult experiments, with good accuracy at least in favorable cases. With these achievements, electronic structure methods have passed the stage of simply providing a basic understanding of properties and processes, and are now established as a valuable tool for the rational design of products and improvement of properties.

Computing materials characteristics help to design useful ones

Over the years, the use of electronic structure methods for the theoretical characterization of materials has gradually established its usefulness in chemical, pharmaceutical, semiconductor and catalyst science. Building capacities in this area can therefore be seen as a valuable alternative to circumvent the high costs of experimental equipment, which, in most cases, is not affordable indeveloping countries like Cameroon.

This is the aim of the 1st Central African School on Electronic Structure Methods and Applications (CASESMA) that will be held from November 18 to 23, 2019 in Dschang, Cameroon with the financial support of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Italy. The school is open to scientists from central African countries. The scientific program will focus on the application of state-to-the art methods such as density functional theory, ab initio molecular dynamics and many body techniques for material characterization.

A continental network of experts is emerging

In recent years, a general interest in the use of electronic structure methods to study materials has arisen in the region. This is thanks to the valuable efforts of several researchers based at institutions like the University of Dschang, Yaoundé, Douala, Ngaoundere, Maroua in Cameroon or Marien Ngouabi in Congo, just to cite a few.

The ASESMA network has enormously contributed to this situation as many of these researchers have benefited from the high quality training offered over the years during its various schools. The exciting research performed by these pioneers has gradually lifted up the motivation of younger scientists to specialize in this area.

The schools are going regional

The recent decision to decentralize ASESMA‘s activities with the creation of regional schools aims at enabling the nucleation of regional platforms of collaborations between researchers. This appears necessary in order to build a strong and efficient network at the continental level via inter-regional axes of collaboration, and similarly extends to the intercontinental level.

In this school, a regional award, the CASESMA prize, has been initiated to reward the best performing and more enthusiastic students. The prize consists of funding for short-term visits for collaboration with international host institutions. The expertise acquired during these stays will contribute to strengthen this area of research in the region.

The mineral ressources of Central Africa

Central Africa is rich in minerals of technological relevance. In Cameroon, for example, Fongo-Tongo, a village nearby Dschang, the city hosting the school, is rich in bauxite, the ore of aluminium, a material with a wide range of applications. The importance of studying this material more deeply will be highlighted during the school.

Titanium dioxide and cobalt oxide, also abundant in the country, are relevant for solar cells and thereby for hydrogen fuel production through water splitting using sunlight –an abundant resource in central Africa because of its location around the tropical belt. The beneficial properties of these materials contribute to the importance of rationalizing the research landscape in the region by promoting research topics closely aligned with local needs.

Non scientific authorities are invited

Since energy is a crucial area, officials of the ministry of energy and the only national energy company will also be invited to discuss the knowledge and research that the school offers. Energy production at the human scale, and from various sources, will be useful in the long-term process of energy democratisation, a primordial step among the many towards achieving sustainable development goals.

Like in many other African countries, traditional leaders are very influential socially, culturally and politically in Cameroon. They will be invited during the scientific activities and a special session will be devoted to discussing the importance of funding science either by individuals or local companies.

The importance also to inform traditionnal rulers

During a similar school organised last year, traditional, university, and political authorities were all at the closing ceremony. The traditional rulers could appreciate the usefulness of the school as a tool for capacity building. They saw this as a motivation to encourage research funding, and also to influence decision makers to fund research. This importance was made visible by giving the invited lecturers from ICTP, Ralph Gebauer and Nicola Seriani, the highest traditional honors of the region.

The event was advertised in the most influential media as a nice example of science spreading action to be copied and encouraged.

A prize named after the mayor of the city was initiated last year, and this year one will be named after the state senator. Both had significantly participated, through various forms of contributions, to the success of the event, and the same support is expected this year.

Stephane Kenmoe, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany

This article has first been published in the African Physics Newsletter.


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