Monday, December 22, 2008

Douglas Fuerstenau, continued, Parts 2, 3, and 4

As mentioned in my last blog posting, Douglas W. Fuerstenau was recently honored on his 80th birthday. On the right he is shown in a photo taken several years ago with 3 of his former students, all professors at Penn State (me on the left, Prof. Fuerstenau, Prof. Richard Hogg, and the late Prof. Subhash Chander.)

My written tribute to DWF recalled how in graduate school I knew that he was very, very busy, but whenever I went to his office I always felt he was 100% there for me. Later, as I got older and went to conferences I was always struck by how attentive he was in listening to people’s presentations. . . Prof. Fuerstenau was a mentor long before the word became a cliché. It has been my good fortune to learn firsthand from him how a research group can become a genuine academic family.

In Part 1, DWF talked about the mentors in his professional life.
Below are the remaining video clips taken from his remarks at the symposium held in California in December, 2008.

Part 2: Approach to Research

Part 3: Evolution of Research Topics

Part 4: The Future of Minerals/Materials Processing

Monday, December 15, 2008

Douglas Fuerstenau: Giant of Minerals/Materials Processing

In December, 2008, about 70 of his former PhD students, friends, and family gathered near the University of California, Berkeley, to celebrate Professor Douglas W. Fuerstenau's (DWF) 80th birthday.

I don't believe I knew of DWF's existence when I was an undergraduate at Berkeley in the late 1960s. He was on leave and his course "Particulate Materials Processing" was taught by Prof. Klaus Schonert of Germany. When considering graduate school I talked with my instructors about possible options. I wanted to specialize in an area relevant to Africa. High voltage electron microscopy, an area where Berkeley was then a world leader excited me, but I could not see how to pursue this research area once I was back in Africa. My professors suggested I consider the University of British Columbia (Prof. Peters' hydrometallurgy school), and the Henry Krumb School at Columbia University. Eventually one of the professors asked "Have you talked to Prof. Fuerstenau?" I replied "Who is he?"

I was extremely fortunate that I became his graduate student and it was an honor to be a part of this DWF@80 celebration. My wife Fran accompanied me and spontaneously captured the words of wisdom from this giant of the broad field of minerals and materials processing and engineering on her digital camera. With permission from DWF, I am honored and pleased to share his reflections. Below is the first of 4 parts that I will be posting.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

More on Proverbs and Materials Science and Engineering

In September I posted some of the results of my efforts to teach materials science and engineering at the University of Ghana using African proverbs as a starting point. In November (2008) in Abuja, Nigeria there was another opportunity, with students from the African University of Science and Technology (AUST). Here are some of the proverbs they shared, though there is not enough space to include the fascinating interpretations and applications to materials science and engineering:

Uwikoreye ibumba ntaterana amabuye "When you carry a clay pot don't fight by throwing stones" (Kinyarwanda, Rwanda)

Nwanya maramma ejihe akpa garri akwara ya akwa "We do not use a garri sack to sew cloth for a beautiful woman"(Igbo, Nigeria)

Ankwerɛ hunu na ɛyɛ dede
"Empty barrels make the most noise" (Twi, Ghana)

Iti ogede ko to nkan a nlo ada ge "No sane person sharpens his/her machete to cut a banana tree" (Yoruba, Nigeria)

Igiti kigororwa kikiri gito "The tree is dressed when it is still young" (Kinyarwanda, Rwanda)

Zewuze torkornu wokpoe le “The bigger of two pots can only be determined at the riverside” (Ewe, Ghana)

Iya ni wura baba ni jigi,ojo iya ba ku ni jigi eni baje, ojo baba ba ku ni jigi eni womi "Mother is like gold and father is like a mirror/glass. The day your mother dies is the day you lose your gold and the day your father dies your mirror is broken." (Yoruba, Nigeria)

Wankin hula ya kai ka dare "If you wash a cap in the evening you don’t have sunlight to dry it" (Hausa, Nigeria)

Nkpume pee elu egwu atuwa ite "When the stone goes up the earthen pot becomes afraid" (Igbo, Nigeria)

Ahweneɛ papa ɛnkasa "Good/excellent beads do not speak." (Twi, Ghana)

Igube ebejiri Orji "The locust has broken the mighty Iroko tree." (Igbo, Nigeria)

Ejihe ihe eji agba ba nti agba na anya "We do not use the same material to clean our ears as well as our eyes." (Igbo, Nigeria)

Vivivi hafi ebge zuna nyinoti "It is through a gradual process that the grass is transformed into cow's milk." (Ewe, Ghana)

Eha ti deka mete kplo anyigba O, ke bon ne wo so gbo hafi "A single broom straw can never be used to sweep. Many must be kept together before sweeping can be done." (Ewe, Ghana)

Nwaanyi muta ite ofe mmiri mmiri, di ya amuta ipi utara aka were suru ofe " If a woman decides to make the soup watery, the husband will learn to dent the foofoo before dipping it into the soup." (Igbo, Nigeria)

E lelia nwa ite, o gbonyua oku "If you neglect the pot, it boils over and extinguishes the fire. (Igbo, Nigeria)

I would like to express my appreciation to my students who contributed the proverbs: Emmanuel Amankwah, Clement Atiso Domefafa, Nelson Yaw Dzade, Emmanuel Femi Olu, Hakeem Bello, Josephine Udeigwe, Kingsley Obodo Onyebuchi, Anthony Ogbuu Okechukwu, and Bizimana Stany Nzabarinda.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ghana's Materials Industry, Part 3

Once we made the decision to learn about the materials industry in Ghana, more doors began to open.

Our next trip took us to coastal Winneba to visit two ceramics companies. Perhaps the availability of local clay supplies makes Winneba attractive to ceramics factories, or perhaps the nearness to the University of Education at Winneba, which includes an art major, plays a part. It was striking that once again, these companies were both founded by graduates of ceramic arts schools.

The first company was founded by Mr. Richard C. Ekem, whose original art studio has expanded to include production of technical ceramics such as crucibles for the mining industry. For more pictures from our trip to Ekem Ceramics, go to mensana flickr.

The second factory was founded and owned by Mr. Benjamin Mbroh. His company makes exterior wall tiles that can convert a mud house into an attractive "brick" building. It also makes roofing tiles.

Mbroh's work is impressive. In addition, he has a development-minded, sustainable approach to his business: he grows his own trees to fuel his kilns. For additional pictures of Mbroh Ceramics, go to mensanaflickr.

We were excited to learn about the work of these entrepreneurs in the Ghanaian ceramics industry. Our sense of Ghana's unfolding history was reinforced as we discovered a photo featuring a young President Kuffour as an aspiring manager in the brick and tile manufacturing industry. That afternoon as we returned from our trip and approached Accra, we happened to see one of Mr. Mbroh's trucks making deliveries. As pleased as we were to increase our understanding and awareness of Ghana's indigenous materials industries, we were left asking ourselves:

Where are the engineers? How can we educate engineers so they pick up the same spirit of entrepreneurship? How can we support and help strengthen these industries that are already beginning?
We expect we will see similar patterns with small-scale food processing companies in Ghana: How many of these are enterprises led by food scientists /engineers? There is much work to be done.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ghana and South Korea: The Past does not predict the Future?

Recently, one of my former graduate students received a prestigious award from the Korean government for his leadership in advancing nanotechnology research in Korea.

a few weeks ago I read that South Korea has been taken off the list as a "developing country" and moved up to the category of "developed country."

Recalling these events brings to mind the oft-repeated comparison between South Korea and Ghana: how at the time of Ghana's independence in 1957, both countries were at the same income level. In 2008, Ghana is appealing to South Korea for development aid.

When I was on sabbatical in Ghana people were still debating whether or not the government made the right decision in signing up for the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) program.

So how does one explain the differences in technological development of Ghana and South Korea, given that both countries were on the starting line together?

Or perhaps the more important question is: What lessons can Ghana learn from South Korea?

My impression is that Ghana, like many Sub-Saharan African countries, has no serious national science and technology policy.
This year I frequently heard pronouncements from national leaders that they want Ghana to be a middle-income country by 2015. There was a lot of emphasis on
infrastructural development and attracting investors and banks. A crucial missing link was a genuine substantive investment in human capacity development in science and technology. This area made a huge difference in the development trajectories of Ghana and South Korea (see, for example, Jones, "Engineering Capacity Building in Developing Countries").

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ghana Materials Industry, Part 2

Ghana's Ceramics Industry: On Flower Pots, Roof Tiles, and Nano Technology

Any visitor to the University of Ghana, Legon campus, is immediately struck by the lovely terra cotta roof tiles. For many years the campus buildings were sadly neglected, so on my latest trip it was inspiring to see the numerous construction and renovation activities on campus. I was pleased to note the deliberate effort to preserve the original architecture, represented in part, by the red-tiled roofs.

Our second field trip took us to a company that supplies some of the tiles being used at the university, Ceramica Tamakloe, in Dodowa, near Accra. Peter Tamakloe, the proprietor and Managing Director, is a graduate of the College of Art of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). He began by making flower pots for export and when that business
slowed down he experimented with local clays for the manufacture of unglazed tiles. Lately, he's also added another product: ceramic-based water purification systems. Incidentally, the antibacterial action of the filtration system relies on a coating of nanosize silver particles.

Mr. Tamakloe is passionate when he talks about the need for people to put their head knowledge into practice.

Here are some words of wisdom he shared with us that day:

"We've given education a certain wrong feeling in Africa"
(i.e., we learn stuff but we don't DO it. It's as if learning is only for passing exams.)

"(There are) so many people with knowledge in their heads, and it dies with them."

"The clay is in my blood. I'll do it." (Even though he has faced severe financial challenges, he has no choice because he sees this work as his mission. He'll overcome all odds to do what needs to be done to pursue his dream.)

"Do it because you love it." (Everyone should find something that excites them and give it their best.)

"Don't be afraid to share knowledge. It will come back to you." This last quotation reflects his openness to collaborating with university researchers. He has been experimenting with local red and white clays and welcomes partners who bring a scientific approach such as will be forthcoming from the University of Ghana's Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

"Knowledge is useless unless it benefits somebody."

I left Ceramica Tamakloe inspired, but with this persistent question haunting me: why is a ceramic artist taking the lead in advancing technical ceramics? Where are the materials engineers?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ghana Materials Industry, Part I

If you had come to me in February and said "Okay, so you are a professor of materials science and engineering in the new Faculty of Engineering Sciences at the University of Ghana: tell me something about the materials industry in Ghana," I would have had to pretend that I was deaf and dumb. I knew nothing about the industry.

That's why I proposed to my young colleagues that we undertake a project to identify some of these companies in the Accra area, visit them, and educate ourselves about their activities. It would be great if in the near future when somebody walks into the headquarters of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Legon and asks the question above, the lecturers can hand him or her a directory detailing the various companies, such as when they were established, their founders' backgrounds, company sizes, products, production rates, etc.

It is a young department, only 3 years old; last academic year, there were no senior students and only one (enthusiastic) junior. The department is bound to grow, and sooner or later students are going to ask the professors, "tell us about job opportunities." If we have that document, we will be prepared to answer their questions intelligently.

For our first visit, I remembered that my mate from secondary school, Ako Odotei (wearing a hat in the picture above), returned home from the U.S. several years ago determined to start a materials-related company. I searched him out and he was very responsive to our request to visit. His company, ICM Ventures, makes solid surface materials like the tiles, counter tops and sinks in the picture.

It was most encouraging to see a Ghanaian engaged in serious manufacturing. It was a refreshing contrast to the usual selling of imported goods from abroad. How can Africa advance technologically if her engineers don’t produce anything?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Ghana Materials Research Society (MRS-GH) Inaugurated

I left Ghana on July 15th in the evening. That morning I had the pleasure of making a keynote presentation at the inaugural meeting of the Ghana Materials Research Society. The meeting was held at the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute (STEPRI) in Accra.
It was the final outcome of a lot of encouragement from the United States. MRS-Ghana is a chapter of the Africa Materials Research Society (MRS - Africa), which itself was inaugurated in Dakar, Senegal in December 2002 (see also and search for the pdf file of the MRS bulletin from Feb, 2003, p. 143 " Africa Materials Research Society [MRS-Africa] Held Inaugural Meeting)."

The picture above shows the attendees at the Ghana inaugural meeting. They are from the University of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), and the Industrial Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (IRI-CSIR).

Given the historical importance of the occasion, I invited my daughter Abena, a science historian at the University of California, Berkeley, to come witness the meeting. It pleased me that Kwadwo Konadu, the pioneer student of the University of Ghana's new Department of Materials Science and Engineering, was able to attend.

While this was a great beginning, I celebrated with mixed feelings. Only 2 universities were represented, though there are other institutions of higher learning with materials-related programs and professors (e.g., the University of Cape Coast, the University for Development Studies, and the several polytechnics). Also absent were representatives from industry, other branches of CSIR such as the Building and Road Research Institute, and the Forestry Research Institute, and institutes of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC). Apart from my observing daughter, there was only one woman, Dr. Elsie Effah Kaufmann, a biomaterials scientist and Head of the University of Ghana's Department of Biomedical Engineering.

MRS - Africa
Since 2002, several other country chapters have emerged (South Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria, Senegal, Morocco, . . .). Following the initial Dakar, Senegal (2002) meeting there have been Africa MRS meetings in Johannesburg, South Africa (2003), Marrakech, Morocco (2005), (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (2007). The 2009 Africa MRS meeting will be held in Nigeria.

The photo below was taken of the Ghanaian delegation at the 4th International Conference of MRS-Africa in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Congratulations to Professor Francis Momade (Provost, College of Engineering, KNUST) and his associates for working to make MRS-Ghana a reality. May it grow to become a dynamic and truly nationwide society.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Teaching and learning materials science and engineering with (African) proverbs

". . . Proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten."
These words come from the opening chapter of Achebe's famous novel Things Fall Apart. I learned this year that proverbs can also lubricate the teaching and learning of materials science and engineering.

One of the first things I did at the University of Ghana, Legon campus in January was to visit the university book store. A book on display there immediately caught my attention -- Bu Me Bε: Proverbs of the Akans.
It's a compilation by mother and son Peggy and Kwame Anthony Appiah along with Ivor Agyeman-Duah of over 7,000 Ghanaian proverbs. It fascinated me, but I had not realized how it had entered my subconscious until I was planning the first assignment for my course on "materials science and the future." It was an assignment that left the students, expecting a lecture on "advanced" or "nano" materials, bewildered. They were to select 6 Ghanaian proverbs with a materials connection, translate them into English, and explain the meanings and those materials connections.

To practice, I asked them to come up with some proverbs in class, but they seemed stunned and nobody volunteered anything. I provided an example and we worked on it together: “Dade bi twa dade bi mu” (Twi; iron sharpens iron). The first interpretation was that of superiority: one material has a superior property to another. Then to my delight they moved beyond that to suggest that the proverb illustrates the need for collaboration/cooperation: if a knife wants to be sharper, it needs the help of another material.
Below are some of the other proverbs they eventually came to consider. The most most popular one was versions of:

"Enam dua so na ahoma hunu soro" - Twi. It is through the tree that the thread (rope or vine) goes up (sees the sky). Others are:

"Dze mekafua edokui o"- Ewe. Salt does not praise itself.

Edon a eho apae no engyegye yie” - Twi. A cracked bell can never sound well.

Gya ne atuduro nna faako”- Twi. Fire and gunpowder do not sleep together.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ant Hills: Materials Science and Engineering

While I was on sabbatical at the University of Ghana this year, I used to walk to and from work at the Faculty of Engineering Sciences (Torto Chemistry Building) on the Legon campus. One of the things that struck me was the several huge ant hills along the way. I realized that I had no idea how they were constructed. I started asking anyone I could find what they knew about the science and technology of ant hills.

At the same time, I was thinking about how to convey to my students some of the central concepts of materials science and engineering: processing/structure/properties/behavior. How do you teach the concept of microstructure in an environment without microscopes?

Eventually, I assigned my students a project.

They were to go out in teams of 2 into the field (dividing the campus into 4 quadrants, and sampling 2 ant hills from each quadrant, comparing and contrasting them). They were also to read four relevant articles I managed to locate: 1) J. Korb, “Experimental heating of Macrotermes bellicosus (Isoptera, Macrotermitinae) mounds: what role does microclimate play in influencing mound architecture?" Insectes sociaux, Vol. 45 (1998) pp. 335-342; 2) P. Jouquet, “The soil structural stability of termite nests: role of clays in Macrotermes bellicosus (Isoptera, Macrotermitinae) mound soils,” The European Journal of Soil Biology Vol. 40 (2004) pp. 23-29 (available online from Science Direct); 3) M. Luscher, “Air conditioned termite nests” The Scientific American, Vol. 205 (1961), pp. 138-145; and 4) P. R. Hesse, “A Chemical Physical Study of the Soils of Termite in East Africa,” The Journal of Ecology, Vol. 43, No. 2 (Jul., 1955), pp. 449-461, published by British Ecological Society.

The students had fun with this assignment. One of the lessons that profoundly affected some of them was recognizing that ants, without huge budgets, fancy equipment, or fanfare, are able to build such efficient and complex structures. It encouraged them to realize that, with creativity and hard work, it is possible to do something useful and long-lasting even if one has seemingly limited resources.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Advancing Science and Technology Education in Africa: The AUST Project

It is said that a few years ago when James Wolfesohn, former President of the World Bank, asked Nelson Mandela what he thought was the greatest need for development in Africa, Mandela unhesitatingly replied that it was human capacity in science and technology. Mandela’s statement inspired the World Bank to initiate the Nelson Mandela Institute/African Institute of Science and Technology project in 2004. The original vision was to create a world-class Pan-African research-oriented institution composed of higher education campuses and smaller affiliated centers of excellence throughout sub-Saharan Africa. This institution would be capable of training the next generation of African scientists and engineers and profoundly impacting the continent’s development.

This July marked the commencement of the first academic year at the first of the four proposed campuses: AUST Abuja. The next campus is likely to be in Arusha, Tanzania. 55 students were admitted into post-graduate courses at Abuja. Instructors include outstanding science and engineering professors from the African diaspora committed to helping the project succeed.

As a member of the African Scientific Committee (ASC) of the Nelson Mandela Institute, one of the things I find most exciting about this experiment is the fact that several of Africa’s best science and engineering students will be gathered in one place—I expect an explosion of creativity!

At the end of June, my wife, Dr. Fran Osseo-Asare, and I hosted a reception at the Legon Guest Centre restaurant for the Ghanaian AUST students. Eight of them were able to attend, along with several guests. Registrar A. T. Konu and Prof. Awotwi, Vice Dean of the School of Research and Graduate Studies, were present to provide words of encouragement and advice.

Below is a brief video featuring the students at the reception sharing their interests and hopes and aspirations.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Students Interview Materials Researchers at University of Ghana, Legon

2007-2008 has been a memorable year: a sabbatical leave from Penn State University enabled me to spend the academic year at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and the University of Ghana, Legon. At Legon I taught a course in the newly established Faculty of Engineering Sciences: MSEN 325--Materials and the Future. As part of that course, students identified faculty doing materials research, and armed with a simple digital camera, set out to interview 6 of them. The interviews are posted below:

Prof. Edmund Osae, Dept. of Physics

Dr. R. Kwadjo, Dept. of Physics

Prof. Adanu Dept. of Physics

Mr. Lucas Damoah, Materials Science & Engineering

Prof. D. K. Asiedu, Department of Geology

Dr. Elsie Effah Kaufmann, Dept. of Biomedical Engineering

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