African Physics Newsletter

How Has COVID-19 Affected My Activities?

A young congolese scientist managed to come train in Europe in computational material science despite the COVID-19.

My first contact with Europe would have been in Germany, at the University of Duisburg-Essen in the group of Professor Eckhard Spohr where I was invited for a short visit. But coronavirus decided otherwise. Another opportunity to go to ICTP in Italy to attend the Postgraduate Diploma Programme arose. I could not let it fly away like the previous one. I therefore had to face the pandemic induced restrictions and barriers.

I am Julia Blandine Bassila from Congo Brazzaville. I hold a master’s degree in condensed matter physics from the Marien Ngouabi University.

A one week school

Since my master’s degree studies, I have developed an interest in computational material science. In 2019, I was recommended by Dr. Maryse Nkoua and selected to participate in the 1st Central African School on Electronic Structure Methods and Applications (CASESMA) held November 18-23, 2019, in Dschang, Cameroon.

The school was organized by Dr. Stéphane Kenmoe, from the University of Duisburg-Essen, and Prof. Lukong Cornelius Fai from the University of Dschang. I was selected among the best participants of the school and awarded the CASESMA prize for best performance.

An invitation to Germany

Shortly after the school, I was invited by Professor Eckhard Spohr, one of the school lecturers, to his group at the University of Duisburg-Essen for 3 months starting on May 4, 2020. During this period, I would have been trained on molecular dynamics simulations of cobalt oxide/water interactions, a relevant topic for heterogeneous catalysis in the liquid phase.

I was granted a monthly scholarship of €1000 for living expenses. This opportunity was the occasion for me not only to build a network of collaboration with the outer world but also to draw a research perspective for my scientific career.

Travel cancelled

I got my travel visa on March 3, 2020. Shortly after, almost all countries in the world unfortunately went into lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Congo, Germany and almost all countries in the world closed their borders.

I could therefore not travel anymore. This was a catastrophe for me.

A reschedule

Such a precious opportunity was missed. This would have been a big break for me as I would have had the chance to be trained by top scientists on molecular dynamics simulations.

I was frustrated, torn between the fear of contracting coronavirus and the impatience of waiting for the reopening of the borders. It took too long and the visit was rescheduled for 2021, but who knows when the pandemic would be over?

Accepted in ICTP

Everything was uncertain, but I did not lose hope and another opportunity arose. I was accepted for a diploma course during the lockdown.

Sometime before, I had applied for the Postgraduate Diploma Programme 2020-2021 at the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy.

Minimum service during the lockdown

My application had been supported by the lecturers at CASESMA 2019: Andrea Marini and Eckhard Spohr. I was then asked by ICTP to send all certified copies of transcripts and degrees by post.

This was a great challenge. During the lockdown, the service was at minimum at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where I had to do the certification.

Everything on time

I was not sure things would be done on time. There was a deadline to meet and there was no public transportation. I was therefore forced to walk for many miles on foot from home to the Ministry and, later on, to the post office which were all far from each other. This was the only way to meet the deadline.

Fortunately, I got all the documents certified and sent to ICTP on time. Everything went well, and I got my visa to travel to Italy.

Passing a COVID test

But there was another challenge to face. I had to take a COVID-19 test and have a negative result in order to be allowed to travel. I had been cautious and had carefully adhered to hygienic measures and social distancing since the beginning of the pandemic. So, I made it and could travel to Trieste.

But still this is not the end. I am presently writing these lines from Trieste, in quarantine.

Scientists can manage

I question myself. What would be the next step? What if COVID-19 persists, becomes worse? What if… This interrogation now haunts me.

But I am sure about something: science will win, the scientists can manage the situation and ICTP is proving it. The diploma program will take place despite the pandemic and its imposed restrictions. We are the soldiers of science and we will make it.

Julia Bassila, Congo Brazzaville

This article has first been published by the African Physics Newsletter - © American Physical Society, 2020


Afriscitech, all science throughout all Africa.

Follow the news about scientific and technological research in Africa and by Africans.


Who are we? is published by Coopetic.

- Luc Allemand, Editor in Chief

Cookies settings


Functional Cookies

This site uses cookies to ensure its proper functioning, which cannot be disabled from our systems. We do not use them for advertising purposes. If these cookies are blocked, some parts of the site will not work.

Measure of audience

This website uses cookies to measure and analyse audiences, such as Google Analytics and Google Ads, in order to evaluate and improve our website.

Interactive Content

This site uses third-party components, such as ReCAPTCHA, Google Maps, MailChimp or Calameo, which may store cookies on your machine. If you decide to block a component, the content will not be displayed

Social Networks / Videos

Social network and video plug-ins, which use cookies, are available on this website. They make it possible to improve the user-friendliness and promotion of the site through various social interactions.

Other cookies

This Joomla CMS uses a number of cookies to manage user sessions, for example.