African Physics Newsletter

When Women Build Bridges

A happy consequence of the publication (and translation) of an APN article on Afriscitech.

In the last issue of the African Physics Newsletter, Dr. Maryse Nkoua of the Nanomaterials and Nanotechnology Research Unit at the Marien Ngouabi University described the struggle to complete the establishment of a laboratory at the university and the National Institute for Research in Exact and Natural Sciences located in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. Following this article, which was relayed by Afriscitech, two important personalities reacted positively.

Firstly, on the other side of the Congo River, a scientist performed a generous and commendable act. Her name is Dr. Raïssa Malu. Dr. Malu contacted Dr. Maryse Nkoua to offer her support.

A bridge over the Congo river

Ambassador of the Next Einstein Forum on behalf of the Democratic Republic of Congo, this physicist based in Kinshasa, the capital city, proposed a donation of exactly the right amount to reach the goal. What a commendable act!

This generous gesture is a nice way to build a bridge over the Congo River that runs between the two republics of Congo – a scientific bridge that will allow young scientists from both countries to strengthen their skills and to collaborate on research areas well defined by these two capacity builders.

The science needs women

This outstretched hand therefore augurs well for fruitful exchanges between the two countries. Raïssa Malu explained the basis of her gesture and her expectations on this axis of inter-Congolese collaboration:"Last year, our non-profit association, Investing In People, launched scholarships for women in science in the Democratic Republic of Congo with the ‘Sultani Makutano’ business network. Our objective is to support and accompany women who are embarking on scientific studies and careers because we deeply believe that ‘Africa needs science and the science needs women.’ Here, there are two aspects that are close to my heart and which explain my gesture."

"Firstly, it is important that there are more male and female students who go into the physical sciences, especially in the fields of Nanomaterials and Nanotechnologies, Renewable Materials and Energies and Nuclear Physics, which are the areas of research in Maryse's laboratory. Secondly, I deeply believe that the development of the two Congos requires greater collaboration and better cooperation in technical and scientific fields between the two countries. I am therefore delighted by this opportunity and I look forward to the new laboratory becoming operational."

A role model for many

One can say that Raïssa Malu is a valiant ambassador of science, but it is important to underline that it takes a big heart to perform such an act. This visionary is a role model for many, and one of the great builders that Africa needs in constructing the essential pillars for the scientific take-off of the continent: encouraging vocations, building capacities and translating them into opportunities.

Madam, African physics says thank you.

A global reach

Another very interesting piece of news is the global reach of this article that has spread beyond the continent, miles from Brazzaville. The echo reached the French scientific press, and not just any ear. Indeed, the article that was transmitted through Afriscitech also reached Caroline Lachowsky, a renowned journalist from Radio France Internationale (RFI), who has been in contact with Maryse.

Caroline is the radio presenter of the program "Autour de la question (Around the question)", which deals with scientific subjects in the company of world-renowned scientific experts. Caroline has years of experience in the scientific press.

An ideal catalyst

She has a rich scientific cultural background, and an excellent grasp of the challenges and obstacles faced by researchers in developing countries in terms of infrastructure. The program is an ideal catalyst for taking initiatives into scientific circles of excellence.

In fact, during one of her programs, she was about to host Professor Serge Haroche, recipient of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on light. What a great opportunity to highlight Maryse's initiative in the presence of an expert of light!

Interacting with a Nobel laureate

Light is precisely the main tool Maryse will use in her laboratory to study matter. What could be more beautiful than this?

During the show that took place in September, Maryse had the honor, at Caroline's invitation, of interacting with Serge Haroche. It was a brief exchange, but one that gave her more motivation and conviction for her projects. Serge Haroche's illustrations on the applications of light during the show gave her several reasons to be proud to be an ambassador of light.

Make the voice of a physicist heard

The message from Caroline and her guests during the program has spread throughout French-speaking Africa. The program "Autour de la question" is very popular in this part of Africa, even in the most isolated corners where radio is the most practical means of broadcasting because it is within the reach of many.

According to Caroline, this initiative was worthwhile, as she explains: "When I read Maryse's call on Afriscitech, I told myself that it was absolutely necessary to relay it on RFI and make the voice of this physicist (there are not many female ones on the continent...) heard on our antenna. She decided to return to Congo Brazza to conduct her research and to set up the first applied physics laboratory in the Republic of Congo. Quite a challenge! I consider that it is really our role as a science courier to support, as much as possible, this kind of essential and courageous initiative. That's also why I'm working on RFI."

A case of mutual enlightenment

"Knowing that I was receiving Serge Haroche, Nobel Prize in Physics, I thought it would be great to get him to react … so I interviewed Maryse by phone and I found her formidable energy of will and simplicity. … They enlightened each other, as is the case to say 😊, and that is one of my great radio pleasures: to be able to make the link between 'researchers and light seekers' from the north and the south. It is these exchanges and encounters that will make the science and research of tomorrow, I am sure."

Thanks to you, Caroline. Science needs our voices to be heard. Thank you for lending yours.

Providing better conditions for researchers

With all this, we can understand Maryse's satisfaction: "Great was my emotion following the reaction of Caroline and Dr. Malu on the fundraising. It touched me a lot and I thank them very much for this gesture. Indeed, it is sometimes very difficult to be listened to or noticed around the world from my country the Congo, the tiny Congo. This gesture proves once again that women, whatever their sector of activity, know how to trust, encourage and support each other. The financial participation of the association ‘Investing In People’ is a major contribution to this project, which aims to provide better conditions for researchers. We are more than impatient for the end of the construction of the laboratory, which will be a concrete proof of mutual support for the advancement of science."

Stéphane Kenmoe

Editorial Comment

The fact that funding came through is awesome, and from APN we thank and congratulate each person concerned. We see this article as news about what can happen when Africans reach across boundaries to help each other. Unfortunately, the APN cannot become a medium for appeals for funding. It can however be a medium that lists sources of funding. Accordingly, we will start a column with links to funding opportunities relevant to Africa, with the hope that these will prove useful to our readers.

This article has first been published by the African Physics Newsletter © American Physical Society



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