African Physics Newsletter

Second Annual Meeting of the West African Physical Society in Senegal

West African physicists who gathered in December 2020 online, and in person in Dakar, strongly insist on the importance of the scientific diaspora.

In June 2019, the Senegalese Physical Society (SPS) was established after decades of on-again, off-again discussions. The Ministry of Higher Education and Research of Senegal was a key catalyst to that outcome as it served as a facilitator and host to the initial preparatory meetings with representatives of every university in Senegal.

One of the first decisions of SPS was to participate in the process of establishing the Société Ouest-Africaine de Physique (SOAPHYS) or West African Physical Society (WAPS) as a founding member. As of today, WAPS/SOAPHYS includes 7 national societies from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo.

An annual congress

The 1st Congress of WAPS/SOAPHYS was held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in August 2019. During that meeting, the Board selected SPS to organize the 2nd Congress in Dakar the following year (SOAPHYS 2020) while Ivory Coast was chosen for the 3rd edition in 2021.

As has been the case for all events in 2020, the SARS-CoV-2-related COVID-19 pandemic drastically impacted the preparation of SOAPHYS 2020, which came to a halt in March and was pretty much frozen for 4 months. However, in August, following the easing of the restrictions related to the pandemic, both the SPS and the SOAPHYS/WAPS were optimistic enough to confirm the in-person organization of the annual event.

Discussions and training

As a result, in late November - early December 2020, SPS organized 2 back-to-back international events in Dakar at the main university of Senegal, i.e. Cheikh Anta Diop University (UCAD). One was the SOAPHYS/WAPS 2nd Congress and the other a 3-day School on the “Application of Radiation Instrumentation” with the Nuclear and Plasma Science Society of the IEEE combined with an afternoon session about (Senegalese) Women in Physics.

The school was entirely online thus allowing the participation of students from South Africa with Senegalese students gathered at UCAD. On the other hand, SOAPHYS 2020 was an in-person meeting, with a simultaneous live webcast offered during the whole event.

Online and in person

Close to 140 abstracts were submitted to the organizing committee with just over half of them from Senegal. In order to accommodate the highest possible number of oral presentations, 2 formats were offered: a long form for 15 minutes, including a few questions, and a short form for 3 minutes without discussion. To make up for the limited time for discussion, a discussion forum was made available on the SPS website.

While the restrictions had been eased on the Senegalese territory regarding inbound travels, a few national Societies’ members could not make the trip to Dakar due to their particular national restrictions. Out of the more than 110 participants, about a third came from the other member countries. However, the simultaneous webcast gave all the members (and beyond) the opportunity to follow the event in real-time. The presentations covered a wide range of topics, e.g., nano and materials sciences, energy, fluid mechanics, atmospheric, nuclear, atomic or medical physics, with a focus on local issues in many cases.

Participation from the diaspora

The use of videoconferencing allowed us to also involve 5 scientists from the diaspora (in the U.S., Canada, Italy, and France) or just returning from abroad (Togo). Each one made a remote keynote presentation and participated in the discussions about the central theme of the Congress, “Collaboration with the West African Diaspora for a Contribution in Research and Development.” One of the recommendations out of the discussions was for each national society to identify as many scientists from its diaspora as possible.

Despite a few shortcomings, related mainly to the limited time for preparation, the organization of an in-person SOAPHYS/WAPS meeting can be assessed as very successful, especially in the context of the COVID-19 situation. The additional internet streaming of the event contributed also to widening the audience beyond the physical attendance. Fully reviewed papers of different contributions presented during the Congress will appear in the next issue of Journal de Physique de la SOAPHYS.

Future development of SOAPHYS/WAPS

These early steps of SOAPHYS/WAPS are very encouraging. The focus is now on the 3rd meeting scheduled for December 1 – 4, 2021 in Ivory Coast. The attendance is expected to be even larger if not only for the more central location of the host country and a positive evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Board is hoping also to welcome new member countries, and thus go beyond the 7 French-speaking countries that make up SOAPHYS/WAPS as of now. Senegal has been tasked to work on bringing in more countries of this African region, with the aim to better align with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) membership. A successful establishment of regional physical societies such as SOAPHYS/WAPS along the lines of the 5 regional zones of Africa should contribute tremendously in the development of an inclusive Africa-wide physical society.

Oumar Ka, Cheikh Anta Diop University, Dakar, Senegal, President of the Senegalese Physical Society

This article has first been published by the African Physics Newsletter - ©American Physical Society, 2021


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