Discussing the Role of R&D in Ghana’s Development

Global Lab Network hosted the final Science Cafe of 2021 on 17 December on the topic ‘The Role of R&D in Ghana’s National Development‘. The event attracted participants from academia, industry, the public sector, and the STEAM community given its interdisciplinary nature. With contributions from leading academic and industry experts, the session explored the R&D landscape in Ghana and proposed how it can be nurtured to spur national development.

The programme started with a presentation by the keynote speaker Mr Leo Ayerakwa. Leo is currently serving as a Senior Manager, Regulatory Strategy & Preclinical Sciences Expert in the Oncology Business Group at Eisai Pharma Europe Ltd, UK.

Leo’s presentation covered Ghana’s R&D policy and implementation framework, the current state of R&D in Ghana, and the future state of R&D. His recommendations for the future included a 10-point action plan diagnosing and addressing pain points/constraints to harnessing R&D for economic growth. One of the revelations of the presentation was the existence of an independent, non-governmental, and non-profit organisation called Research and Grant Institute of Ghana (ReGIG) dedicated to supporting research and innovation in Ghana by addressing inadequate funding and support for research in the country.

Explaining the linkages between research and economic performance

The presentation was followed by a moderated panel discussion reflecting on Leo’s submissions, and exploring how to address STEM education at all levels while providing pathways to meaningful engagement through jobs and innovation. Joining Leo in the panel discussion, moderated by GLab’s Gameli Adzaho, were Prof Marian Nkansah and Dr Kwame Sarpong Asiedu.

A ten-point proposal to transform R&D in Ghana

Prof Marian Nkansah is an environmental chemist at KNUST and a science communicator who is passionate about linking her research to society to create sustainable impact. She is a multiple award-winning scientist who is a Next Einstein Forum Fellow and an active member of the Global Young Academy. Dr Kwame Sarpong Asiedu on the other hand is a pharmacist and lecturer, with previous leadership roles in the pharmaceutical industry. He is a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (UK) and the Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana, and a Democracy and Development Fellow in Health with the Ghana Centre for Democracy and Development.

The discussion centred around experiences with the research and development landscape in Ghana, good examples of STI implementation, existing gaps, funding research, going from research to innovation, public perception of science, and the way forward. The point was made that R&D, incorporating indigenous knowledge, can drive government’s One District One Factory initiative for example. The important relationship between research and industry was raised many times in the conversation, while the need to popularise science to inspire behaviour change among citizens was emphasised. On advocating for the scientific community at the highest levels of governance, it was recommended that the Presidential Advisory Council on Science, Technology and Innovation (PACSTI) should team up with the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences (GAAS).

The session, which was very interactive and engaging, attracted scientists and science enthusiasts in Ghana and beyond. Jekoniya Chitereka, a Zimbabwean science, technology, and innovation policy researcher at the University of Leeds, highlighted the importance of appreciating the non-linear or ‘spaghetti’ nature of the relationship between R&D and economic development. He emphasised the importance of developing strong relationships between various stakeholders to spur innovation. This also brings to mind the importance of interdisciplinary research that address complex challenges.

Snapshot of some of the participants

If scientific research and innovation should play its intended role in Ghana’s development, there is the need to make STEAM education in Ghana fit for purpose, while addressing the funding and infrastructure issues faced by researchers. We must challenge ourselves to implement the plans in our STI policy in order to realise the promise of R&D. Government, industry, academia, and civil society need to work more collaboratively to define, undertake, and utilise research to address local needs. To quote Leo, ‘it is about our collective effort in unlocking all that individual effort in a syngergistic way…’

Follow Global Lab Network on Twitter and Facebook to be updated on our future sessions or join our Community to contribute to our work and engage with likeminded science enthusiasts.

Video recording of the session

Global Lab Network to Host Three Experts to Discuss the Role of R&D in Ghana’s Development

Global Lab Network is pleased to announce its final Science Cafe of the year. The event will be held online on Friday 17 December at 6:15 PM GMT under the theme The Role of Research and Development (R&D) in Ghana’s National Development.

The goal of the December 2021 edition of Science Cafe is to explore the current state of the R&D / technological sector in Ghana, as a transformative force in Africa’s development goals, with the help of key experts in academia and industry. The session will begin with a presentation by Leo Ayerakwa, FRSB, followed by a moderated discussion also featuring Professor Marian Nkansah and Dr Kwame Sarpong Asiedu, and conclude with an open discussion and Q&A session with all participants present.

Announcing December 2021 Science Cafe

The keynote Speaker, Mr Leo Ayerakwa has played a variety roles in medicines, pharmaceuticals and biomedical R&D over a 25-year career within the global pharmaceutical industry, graduating from University College, London (UCL), School of Pharmacy, University of London, and following post-graduate studies from universities in the UK.

He is currently serving as a Senior Manager, Regulatory Strategy & Preclinical Sciences Expert in the Oncology Business Group at Eisai Pharma Europe Ltd, UK with a broad therapeutic area experience in cancer, neurology, metabolic & cardiovascular diseases, having previously had a spell as a visiting professor on the Neuroscience MSc. course, Trinity College, University of Dublin.

Leo is a UK/EU board-certified toxicologist, advises biotech companies as a consultant, and was recently elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society of Biology, UK.

Prof. Marian Asantewah Nkansah is an Associate Professor at the Department of Chemistry of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, where she obtained her BSc. and MSc. degrees. She holds a PhD in Environmental Chemistry from the University of Bergen-Norway.

Prof. Nkansah’s research span a wide range of fields including finding solutions to environmental problems associated with levels and fate of toxic substances like heavy/trace metals, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in different environmental matrices. She has quite a number of peer reviewed articles and books to her credit.

Prof. Nkansah has received training in Science Diplomacy and Science Advice for Policy. She has been on both national and international platforms where science is discussed for better public understanding. She is a thought leader and motivational speaker.

Prof. Nkansah is a member of the Global Young Academy, an affiliate of TWAS and AAS, a member of the Ghana Young Academy and fellow of the Next Einstein Forum (NEF). She is the inaugural recipient of the TWAS F.M Al-Kharafi Prize and the 2021 winner of the OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award for Women Scientists. She is the immediate Past Warden of Africa Hall of KNUST, a member of the Women in STEM Ghana group and is committed to the mentorship of younger females in their pursuit of STEM fields, and serves as a role model for young girls at the basic level of their education. She was recently selected to join the Executive Committee of the International Year of Basic Science for Sustainable Development (IYBSSD) scheduled for June, 2022 to June, 2023.  She enjoys teaching, storytelling, travelling and hiking.

Kwame Sarpong Asiedu is a Pharmacist whose pharmaceutical career spans over 22 years and has included stints in academia with universities in Ghana and the United Kingdom, as well as leadership roles with Boots UK Limited and Lexden Healthcare at the regional and global level.

He is a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana as well as the Institute of Pharmacy Management International. He is also a Democracy and Development Fellow in Health with the Ghana Centre for Democracy and Development.

An accomplished Public Speaker, Kwame is passionate about public interest advocacy and the improvement of healthcare access across Ghana and the West African sub-region.

Some of the issues to be explored during the session include how to strengthen the R&D capacity in Ghana, determining the role of the private sector in building the R&D ecosystem, examining the progress of the proposed national research fund.

Science Cafe is a knowledge exchange and networking platform that connects scientists, innovators, and the general public, to promote community dialogue and scientific inquiry in informal venues such as coffee houses, bookstores, restaurants, bars, and online. Global Lab Network has organised 10 Science Cafes since 2018 featuring talks from researchers and innovators in public health, technology, mathematics, biotechnology, WASH, urban planning, environmental science, and public policy. These conversations have been useful in re-emphasising the importance of science, technology, and innovation to national development, and also helping to bridge the gap between science and society.

Everyone is welcome to attend the Science Cafe. To join this session kindly register at https://forms.gle/3QXuiVgeYVWuPMGF8.

How to Get Started in Data Analytics – Insights from Experience

Blog post on November 2021 Community Call by Geoffrey Gone

Data Analytics is one of the promising skills in the world of technology that has proved useful across all fields – from health, education, agriculture, construction, transportation, telecommunications, retail, banking, to finance. How does one harness this skill to ensure that impact is created on the Africancontinent?  Global Lab Network hosted its November 2021 Community Call to discuss how individuals can get started with data science. The speakers were Derek Degbedzui, Founder and Researcher with M.A.I.L.S-Connect, and Emmanuel Sekyi, Tech Lead at PaalUp.

Cross-section of the participants on the call

The discussion started with Derek mentioning data as one of the things we struggle to understand in terms of what it offers the world, and this makes it necessary for its study to solve problems. Data analytics in its simplest context enables us to have autonomy or control over the sources of data that we have gathered. He mentioned how important or useful data is and compared the traditional research process in academia to the real world, emphasising the role of modern data science in making broader and better decisions.

Derek further highlighted the failure of systems to solve future problems as a challenge to data science. He also demonstrated the thinking process that should be considered in building a system with the example of a ranking system for newsfeed. The major processes involved were setting goals and objectives and prioritizing these objectives. He also asked a mind-blowing question which is; “At what level should Africans be comfortable to say that we can use analytics to solve our problems and that they wouldn’t pose any challenge to us in the future?”  He answered by saying that Africans should engage in more research and our application or solutions should be explained to the public through engagements.

At what level should Africans be comfortable to say that we can use analytics to solve our problems and that they wouldn’t pose any challenge to us in the future?

Derek Degbedzui

The second speaker, Emmanuel, delved into the topic using a data-driven approach, to describe what beginners need to consider or learn to zoom into the field of data science. His approach used the data science process of gathering data (published articles), analysis, and interpretation to seek advice from the entire data science community. The approach used a public API from dev.to, with the hashtags #datascience #dataanalytics #beginners to gather 1 million data points relating to machine learning and data science. The data was then cleaned and insights extracted. Common themes or insights from the analysis were to learn how to build a model and learn the python programming language, pandas, numPy, and matplotlib.  

Emmanuel went further to explore some relevant skills needed as a beginner and refuted the advice of taking too many online courses. He further explained that those courses will not in themselves help you to become a data scientist, but by building stuff, you are most suited to work in the data science industry. The relevant skills one should learn were categorized into four groups:

  1. Getting data (data scraping/crawling, working with APIs, SQL)
  2. Asking a good question (unambiguous, questions whose answers are testable, what-if questions)
  3.  Programming languages (Python)
  4. Mathematics (Linear Algebra, Basic Calculus, Basic Statistics)

He also emphasized that one mistake people make is to think that technical skills are the most important thing in data science but he begs to differ. He stated that the best data scientist is one with domain knowledge who is learning data skills to apply to whatever domain they are working in. Emmanuel concluded his presentation by saying, a good data scientist should have: a core domain knowledge (46%), the ability to ask good questions (23%), programming skills (15%), and knowledge of mathematics (15%).

The conversation continued with questions, comments, and contributions from participants. Deborah Dormah Kanubala, a lecturer and researcher at Academic City University College, a participant on the call, talked about the essence of ethics in data science and research. She buttressed the point that machine learning engineers should not only focus on the performance of models but also ensure that their models are not biased or discriminatory towards any marginalized group or give the wrong result to any person underrepresented in the dataset. She highlighted the fact that engineers should be concerned about the source of the data and how it was collected to ensure that the data is a good representation of what they want to use it for.

Another participant, Soh asked Emmanuel to explain how machine learning has a bearing on data analytics. Emmanuel answered by saying that the science of working with data is data science. Everything that falls in the category of working with any form of data would fall under data science. The term data analytics is mostly used when you describe the application of data in industry or analysis of data for some insight. And machine learning is the application of mathematical methods to get insight from data. So, you can simply say that data science is a broad umbrella under which data analytics and machine learning falls.

Another participant, Harry asked about policies regarding the use of data on the continent mostly around people who are building health tech solutions. Derek answered by saying though real-world data collection has issues such as privacy and regulatory concerns we do not necessarily need the policy frameworks to be able to know the limits within which to operate. He made us understand that any team that works on a data project mostly relies on the advice of the technical person or the domain expert to provide the guiding principles. Failure to have the domain expert provide guidance could be detrimental. We can also open stakeholder engagement to know the limit within which to operate. Deborah added that the country has no well-defined policy or framework for data usage as compared to the general data protection regulation (GDPR) which is strictly adhered to in Europe. She added that some researchers use randomly generated data which needs no regulation and for publicly available data, the user should cite the source of the data. Kizito, a participant, also added that the constitution is a framework of all frameworks so we do not need an act specifically for data protection or regulation since the constitution has sufficient regulation to protect individual rights. Therefore, if any data company uses your data in a wrong manner you can go to the law court and seek redress.

Concluding, Emmanuel advised that the participants should build stuff that only they can build, i.e. in their domain of expertise. Derek also concluded that we should always remind ourselves of the call to duty, which is, for every opportunity that we have, we should be able to utilize them to benefit others and solve problems.

Watch the full discussion in the video below and check out our Community Call playlist for videos of our previous discussions. Our final event for the year, Science Cafe, will be held on 17 December 2021. Mr Leo Ayerakwa will make a presentation on The Role of R&D in Ghana’s National Development, followed by an expert-led discussion on the topic. You’re welcome to join our Facebook group or follow our Twitter feed to get quick updates on this and future events/activities.

Promoting Reading to Build a Problem Solving Culture

Blog post on October 2021 Community Call by Nigel Agordorku

Reading is an important habit one has to develop in order to enhance literacy, have a broad mind or knowledge on certain topics of interest, and to improve one’s writing and interpretation skills. It is also important because it improves our ability to engage in social discussions on various topics. Why We Should Promote Reading was the theme of the October 2021 Global Lab Community Call led by Stan Dugah.

Video recording of the discussion

Stan is a writer and has many articles to his credit. He is also an avid reader and an advocate of reading to enhance one’s problem solving skills in our society. Stan began his presentation by telling a story of how he visited a library in his hometown very often to pick up books to read as a child, recalling that one of the rist books he read was titled GORILLA.  He then asked why reading is important, and went ahead to explain thart it is how we discover new things. Books, magazines and even the Internet are great learning tools which require the ability to read and understand what is read. A person who knows how to read can educate themselves in any area of life they are interested in. We live in an age where we are exposed to so much information, but reading is the main way to take advantage of it.

Today a lot of people struggle to start reading on a topic from books. Some others find it hard to finish a single book or chapter due to distraction and loss of interest. This has been a main issue which can leadd to low interest in discussions, engaging in other social activities that require people’s views on trending and important issues around us.

This is a big issue for us because people will lack understanding of the things that go on in our society .

Stan Dugah
Some of the participants on the call

Evelyn, a participant asked what can be done to improve and promote comprehension in children, schools, and among individuals? Stan answered by saying one way to promote and enhance reading and comprehension among schools and individuals is to be an example and by also encouraging and practicing reading in schools. Another way we can encourage children to read is to start preparing them to read from childhood by buying them books, taking them to the library and also sharing stories with them. As they get older, you can share more complex books; books with pictures, counting, animal and farmyard stories and little plots. Books can have paper pages because toddlers can do more with their fingers and turn pages without tearing them. As you share stories together, you can anticipate what’s going to happen and talk about it. In line with the above, reading develops the creative side of people.

When reading to children, stop every once in a while and ask them what they think is going to happen next. Get them thinking about the story. When it is finished, ask if they could think of a better ending or anything that would have improved it. If they really liked the story, encourage them to illustrate it with their own drawings or to make up a different story with the same characters.

Stan Dugah

Stan also made it emphatically clear how we can leverage the available technologies we have to promote the habit of reading among individuals. He stated an example where all his articles are published mostly on social media which had a lot of people trooping in to his page just to read what he has published. He also stated that there was an instance where someone who had no interest in reading suddenly developed a reading habit because of the articles he published on his social media pages.

This clearly proves that the internet can be a great tool or platform we can use to promote reading

Stan Dugah

Angela and Eugene who were also participants of the Community Call affirmed Stan’s presentation with contributions which answered many questions while the discussion was ongoing.

There is an old saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Ideas written down have changed the destiny of men and nations for better or worse. The flow of ideas cannot be stopped. We need to read and research to build on the good ideas and expose the bad ideas before they bring destruction. Only by reading can we be armed in this never-ending, life-and-death struggle.

Eugene

To conclude the presentation, Stan made us understand that many educators trumpet the idea of reading-writing relationships, emphasizing how close reading and writing are. As a teacher I was a big believer in this despite the lack of a writing and reading curriculum, writing standards, or even any professional development on the topic. I strongly believe that we can make a vast change by making reading and writing a habit among individuals.

Stan can be reached through +233 50 561 5705 for copies of his books or any writing assignments. Check out our Community Call playlist for videos of our previous discussions. Our next Community Call will be on Getting Started with Analytics on 19 November 2021. You’re welcome to join our Facebook group for event details.

Demystifying Anaesthesiology through Public Science Engagement

Report on September 2021 Science Cafe

Presentation by Dr Irene Adorkor Wulff

The medical field is a broad one covering many specialties as there are organs in the human body. Specialist physicians such as neurologists,ophthalmologists, nephrologists and endocrinologists exist to attend to and address specific medical concerns of patients. One of such specialists, an anesthesiologist, plays a central role in alleviating pain experienced during medical surgeries. Naturally, there are many questions about anaesthesiology and its processes. In a bid to demystify this medical field and bring valuable knowledge to patients, students and parents alike, we engaged one of Ghana’s leading experts in anesthesiology,  Dr Irene Adorkor Wulff in the September 2021 edition of Science Cafe. Leading the discussion, we explored how this field of medicine contributes to quality healthcare delivery.

The session began with a fun and educational Kahoot game where participants answered some general questions on science.

Speaking on the topic, Dr Irene Adorkor Wulff  explained anesthesia as a state of controlled temporary loss sensation or awareness induced for medical purposes. The topics she discussed included the need to see an anesthesiologist before surgery, anesthetic technique, giving consent before anesthesia and complications to expect.

Dr Wulff indicated that anesthesia was not a painful medical activity so one needed to feel no pain whether awake or asleep when going through the process. She  however said there could be slight pain after surgeries.


A good anesthetic technique should completely abolish pain. When you are asleep you should not be aware of what is happening  around you

Dr Irene Adorkor Wulff

She assured the participants that anesthesia was safe because it was controlled, saying “there is somebody in charge who is making sure that you are fine and safe”. Dr Wulff said anesthesia was temporary as the patient wakes up after the process is carried out. She explained and likened anesthesia to someone who was travelling to an uncertain place and did not know when he or she would be back. “It is the same with anesthesia. It is our ultimate goal as anesthesiologists to ensure the patient has a safe journey back to consciousness. Anesthesia is irreversible and as safe as possible,” she said.

Elaborating on how safe the anesthesia was, Dr Wulff said before a patient was given an anesthesia, his or her body system, including how the heart, lung and the kidneys functioned, was assessed. After that, “we plan how we will take the patient on the trip and bring him or her back”.

 She mentioned that it was the responsibility of an anesthesiologist to know the equipment s/he would use and know the medication s/he would give as well as know the techniques of anesthesia and the one suitable for a patient.

There are different ways you can approach a surgical operation but you must choose one which matches the surgical procedure, patient and resources

Dr Irene Adorkor Wulff

 Dr Wulff also said an anaesthesiologist must have an expertise in resuscitation stressing that nobody should take a patient on an anaesthesia journey if they could not resuscitate. She added that there was the need for anesthesiologists to monitor meticulously, pay attention to details,  listen to beeps and understand what changes in beep mean.

Picture of participants at Science Cafe

 She, further, said before a surgery, the patient needed to inform the anesthesiologist about previous anesthesia and any complications,  if any. Other things she said a patient needed to disclose were coexisting illnesses,  current medication being taken and medication allergies adding that a patient should also disclose whether or not s/he smokes or drinks alcohol.  

 Meanwhile, Dr Wulff added that the patient also had the right to know all there is s/he needed to know before receiving an anesthesia. She said the patient must give a consent or permission before continuing with the anesthesia

 Dr Wulff further mentioned some of the common complications experienced as side effects of anesthesia. These included headache, nausea and vomiting, chills and shivering and muscle pain. She encouraged individuals to debunk mysteries associated with anesthesia because anesthesia “is all based on sound scientific principle”.

Technology has allowed us to keep you very safe during surgery

Dr Irene Adorkor Wulff

At the end of the session, participants gained an appreciable understanding of what anesthesiology is, why it is important to see an anesthesiologist before having a surgical procedure, the important information to provide to an anesthesiologist and quality and safety in the perioperative period. 

The September edition of Science Cafe was attended by students, professionals and individuals from different countries and varying medical backgrounds. This diverse pool of individuals afforded each participant the opportunity to learn from not only the speaker but the audience.

We want you to share your work or research with us. You’re welcome to propose a session via this link. There is a community of professionals and students waiting to hear from you! Follow us on Twitter and on YouTube to stay updated on our events.

STEM at Work – Perspectives from Research Careers

Report on July 2021 Community Call

Advancement in scientific careers often requires postgraduate degrees and research experience. In this month’s Community Call, we engaged in an extensive and expository discussion with top-level professionals working in different contexts – graduate school, teaching, and industry. 

Joining the call were members of the GLab Community and many students from the Department of Biochemistry Cell and Molecular Biology of the University of Ghana and beyond. The speakers were Dr Benjamin Owusu (Labcorp, USA) Dr Kwabena Sarpong (Lecturer, University of Ghana) Lois Damptey (PhD student, Open University UK), and Dr Patrick Osei-Owusu (Researcher, University of Chicago).

In an effort to address specific questions targeted at the needs of the audience, the discussion took a ‘question and answer’ approach. The session began with an eye-opening introduction from the speakers about their lives and career journeys, highlighting how they transitioned from their undergraduate degrees, through postgraduate education, to their current positions. 

Speakers sharing their educational and career journey

Diving into the first question ‘How can you make an impact with research?’, Dr Osei-Owusu shared his experience working on the Covid-19 vaccine development and how findings from the research were instrumental in developing safety protocols. He also emphasized the importance of choosing priority topics that have direct impact on human lives and communicating the findings from such research in a relatable manner. Dr Benjamin Owusu stressed the importance of enjoying the process of research. He shared that “ whether you are in the basic science stage of research or the translational stage, you are making an impact and it is relevant to enjoy the process”. 

Addressing the second question “What skills are critical for someone who wants to go into research?” Dr Benjamin Owusu mentioned critical thinking, curiosity and continuous learning as  essential skills for researchers. In addition to these skills hard work, collaboration and networking were noted to be key skills in successful research careers. Dr Kwabena Sarpong shared the ‘not-so-glamorous’ aspects of research and reiterated the essence of building resilience as a researcher. He also mentioned the importance of developing oral and written skills. In an age of information technology, he stated that it is important to have coding skills as it is evolving to be the basics for STEM.

Following this incisive discussion, the speakers went on to discuss the question ‘How is it like trying to get into graduate school in the US?’ The main points  highlighted include:

  • Starting early which translates into being intentional about the application process
  • Building a relationship with your prospective tutors; being upfront about your research interests
  • Building a community of like-minded people (Networking)
  • Writing a well-crafted CV
  • Networking and guidance
  • Writing the GRE

Dr Kwabena Sarpong affirmed that it is normal to get rejections after applying to schools. As a means to hedge any unfavourable outcome, it is recommended to apply to a selected number of  schools. 

Participants engaged in ongoing discussion

Sharing experiences from the UK and European contexts, Lois Damptey shared how personal initiative was instrumental in her ability to secure fully funded scholarships while highlighting the role of friendship and network in attaining goals. She also shared her volunteering and international experiences and explained the role of such engagements in building her portfolio in preparation for graduate school.

A number of  scholarship opportunities and resources were shared in the meeting. Some of these include Python for Science, Freecodecamp’s ‘Python for Scientific Computing’ ​​that teaches beginners how to apply python programming to science and the Coursera platform. Lois also shared the ‘Dear Young Graduate group page and other scholarship websites like Chevening, DAAD, the SINGA Awards and Swedish Institute (SI).

To conclude the session, Dr Fredrick Larbi joined us to reaffirm the need for a Ghanaian Science funding programme. 

The Community Call proved to be insightful with speakers selflessly offering an unadulterated account of their education and career. Participants were very engaged through questions and comments. The session achieved its objective of exploring research careers in working in different contexts and introducing participants to graduate school application processes.

You’re welcome to join the Global Lab Ghana Community on Facebook if you’d like to be engaged on STEM topics and opportunities. Follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube Channel to be updated on our various activities.

The Universe in Focus: Insights into Cosmology and Astronomy from Experts in South Africa and Ghana

Report on June 2021 Science Cafe organised by Global Lab Network

What is the fate of the universe? How can all Africans benefit from Square Kilometre Array (SKA)? Is raising awareness about the universe without implementing school curricula not like putting the cart before the horse? And do black holes exist literally? These were among the many fascinating questions asked by the participants of the Science Cafe held online on 25 June, 2021.

Presentation on the acceleration of the universe

Understanding the origin of the universe, including our earth, has always been a subject of human curiosity, raising many thought-provoking questions like the above ones. To answer these questions, we were privileged to host two speakers with outstanding track records in research, teaching, and public engagement in astronomy, during the June 2021 edition of Science Cafe. A first for the series, we had an international speaker in the person of Professor Bruce Bassett of the University of Cape Town, African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS South Africa), and the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO). Our second speaker, Sarah Abotsi-Masters, is the General Secretary of African Astronomical Society (AfAS), and Weekend Coordinator at the Ghana Planetarium, among other key roles in local and international initiatives. Together, they served a composite view of astronomy and cosmology, giving attendees a truly special experience.

A figure illustrating the rate of expansion of the universe to the distance from us
A figure illustrating the rate of expansion of the universe to the distance from us

GLab Lead Gameli Adzaho kicked off the meeting with an overview of Science Cafe, why it is important, and how we have adapted the model so far. Next, a poll was launched to determine the knowledge and interest of the attendees on Cosmology and astronomical resources in Ghana.

Professor Bruce Bassett set the tone for the discussion with a stimulating presentation on Cosmology; what we know about the universe, mysteries and new tools for astronomy and cosmology in Africa. In his presentation, Bruce gave an excellent illustration of reductionism, how complex phenomena are simplified in the scientific process, with an apple. He defined Cosmology as the study of the whole universe and everything we are in contact with and mentioned the importance of physics in understanding the origins of the universe. Following an illustration of galaxy clusters, Bruce explained how gravity pulls galaxies together and empties out the void leaving a bubble pattern using a map of the universe. Some of the mysteries of the universe he shared were:

  • Most of the matter in the universe is dark and invisible to us.
  • The cosmos is expanding in a very strange manner. The universe is getting bigger at a fast pace.

On some very large scales what we have is anti-gravity as the expansion of the universe started to speed up 5 billion years ago

Professor Bruce Bassett

Prof Bassett further discussed the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, which aims to build the largest network of telescopes to study the universe (two-thirds of these telescopes are expected to be in Africa, with the remainder in Australia). He concluded on the note that that there are several amazing discoveries about the universe however, there exist many more mysteries that are yet to be understood.

Presentation on Opportunities to Learn Astronomy in Ghana

Sarah Abotsi-Masters took off from Prof Bruce Bassett with an overview of astronomical resources in Ghana. She emphasized on the interconnectedness of astronomy to other disciplines and the importance of astronomy to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Despite the inadequacy of support for astronomy in Ghana, which is demonstrated in the lack of undergraduate astronomy courses, Sarah mentioned some notable organizations dedicated to promoting the study of astronomy in Ghana. They include, Ghana Planetarium, All Nations University and the Radio Astronomy Observatory. Sarah shared some opportunities for learning astronomy like the Development in Africa with Radio Astronomy (DARA) project and Promoting Radio Astronomy in Ghana through School Visits and Clubs (PRAGSAC). At the end of the presentations, the questions raised by the attendees were answered by the speakers in a thought-provoking conversation.

In the pre-event poll conducted at the beginning of the session, 11% of the participants stated that they had hardly heard of the topic under discussion while 78% stated that they had some idea with 11% engaged in some research in the area. At the end of the discussion however, the majority of attendees totalling 86% found the discussion stimulating and amazing. 

The Science Cafe was educating and eye opening, and met its objective of offering  participants  a new and informed perspective of the world beyond the earth, with a clearer understanding of the evolution of the universe, and increased awareness of latest scientific developments in Africa.

If you’re a researcher, innovator or artist who would like to speak at a future Science Cafe, please send us a proposal through our Speaker recruitment form. However if you’re interested in our programmes but not quite ready to speak just yet, you can join our Facebook Community or follow us on Twitter to remain updated!

Global Lab Network to Host Prof. Bruce Bassett of the University of Cape Town, AIMS South Africa in Science Cafe

Press Release on June 2021 Science Cafe

As an organisation building a STEAM Community for social impact, we are very delighted to host Professor Bruce Bassett in the June edition of Science Cafe.

Prof. Bruce Bassett, Senior Resident Researcher, is head of the Cosmology Group at African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) South Africa. Bruce is a graduate of the University of Cape Town (UCT), where he obtained his MSc in Applied Mathematics. After completing a PhD in Trieste, and a postdoctoral fellowship in Oxford, he lectured at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation at Portsmouth University. After a sabbatical at Kyoto University he returned to Cape Town to a joint position, Professor of Applied Mathematics at UCT and astronomer at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO).

The event will be held on June 25, 2021 via Zoom on the topic: Cosmology – Study of the Entire Universe. This edition of Science Cafe will explore fundamental questions about the origin of the universe and the changes it has undergone over time and space. The event will also host Sarah Abotsi-Masters of the Ghana Planetarium to share on astronomical organisations and resources in Ghana, and discuss contextual issues around scientific research in Africa.

Sarah Abotsi-Masters is the General Secretary of the African Astronomical Society (AfAS), a National Astronomy Education Coordinator (NAEC) for Ghana for the Office of Astronomy for Education (OAE) and a member of the PRAGSAC project team (Promoting Radio Astronomy in Ghana through School Visits and Astronomy Clubs), which uses astronomy to promote STEM and hands-on science through school astronomy clubs.

Promotional flyer for Science Cafe

Science Cafe is a knowledge exchange and networking platform that connects scientists, innovators, and the general public, to promote community dialogue and scientific inquiry in informal venues such as coffee houses, bookstores, restaurants, bars, and online platforms. GLab has been organising Science Cafes in Ghana since August 2018, with speakers drawn from various professional backgrounds.

At the end of the programme, participants will gain a new and informed perspective of the world beyond the earth, with a clearer understanding of the evolution of the universe, and increased awareness of latest scientific developments in Africa. 

To participate in this free session, register online at bit.ly/SciCafeGH.