Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Materials Science and Engineering or Nothing Else

In 2008, while on a sabbatical leave at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Ghana, I was assigned to teach the course "Materials and the Future." One assignment I gave the students was to write a newspaper article on any aspect of materials science and engineering that interested them.

Here is the contribution from Kwadwo Konadu Ansah-Antwi, the pioneer student of the new Department of Materials Science and Engineering. I thank Kwadwo for permitting me to share this and hope it will inspire others to explore this field so vital to African development. I have been in contact with The Daily Graphic since September 2008, but I have found that it is completely nontrivial to get feedback from Ghana's leading newspaper as to if and when they plan to publish it.

Materials Science and Engineering or Nothing Else
Kwadwo Konadu Ansah-Antwi
Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Faculty of Engineering Sciences
University of Ghana

When asked the question, “What would you like to be in the future?” the words that always sprang from my lips were “an electrical engineer.” When I completed junior high school I was admitted into Mfantsipim School to read general science. My elective subjects were mathematics, physics, chemistry and technical drawing. Well, it was not a smooth ride through senior high school, but I can still remember my euphoria on the day I turned in my final SSSCE paper.

When it came to choose my course of study at university I did not have to think twice. Electrical engineering was my first choice on the form addressed to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). Because there are only a few universities and polytechnics to absorb all the thousands of students that qualify for admissions, it is a wise decision to buy more than one university’s admission form. Still, I actually had never thought that I would ever have my university education at the University of Ghana. It was well known among many people that the University of Ghana is to humanities as KNUST is to science and technology.

I was pressed between the courses to choose on the University of Ghana forms since electrical engineering was not part of the engineering courses offered there. Computer, biomedical, food processing, agricultural, and materials science and engineering (ceramic option) were the programs listed at the engineering column. I finally settled for computer engineering as my first choice since I thought it was the most prestigious among the list. Little did I know that I would be admitted into University of Ghana to offer a programme of which I had no prior knowledge. The end of the first part of my story is that I was not admitted to study electrical engineering at KNUST and neither did I gain admission to study computer engineering there. I was offered a chance to study “materials science and engineering” at the University of Ghana.

On August 3, 2005 I reported for registration at the University of Ghana. By this time I had developed so much enthusiasm for materials science and engineering that I could not wait for the freshmen/women orientation to end so lectures could begin. My interest in materials science and engineering developed as a result of the persistent research I carried out on the job prospects and essentially what the programme entailed at the undergraduate level. As a child I had always dreamed of working with NASA. In one of my research sessions on the Internet I came across an advertisement from a materials science and engineering professor. In the ad the professor was in search of graduate students to conduct research designing highly thermal resistant ceramic tiles for the space shuttle being used by NASA. Immediately I knew I had found another door through which I could potentially join the NASA staff even though the electrical engineering window had been closed to me.

All the students that had been admitted into the various engineering programmes were to take common courses for two years. I made some good friends among my course mates. I was on the lookout for students who had been admitted for materials science and engineering but I couldn’t find any at that moment. However, as the semester progressed I got to know that there were about six other students who were in my department.

In the blink of an eye the first semester had ended. I was posted to GRATIS foundation as an intern together with seven other students from all the various engineering departments. GRATIS is an acronym for Ghana Regional Appropriate Technology Industrial Services. It is a collaborative initiative of the Government of Ghana, the European Union (EU) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Gratis Ghana Foundation exists to promote industrialization by developing and disseminating technology to industry, particularly small and medium-scale enterprises.

For every step I took in GRATIS my quest was to identify the relevance of materials science and engineering with the operations of the company. As an intern I was trained on how to use AUTOCAD software to design. I was also involved in a team that fabricated a groundnut dehusking machine.

The second semester of level 100 began and by now I was acclimatized to the rigorous university work. By this time almost all the other departments except materials science and engineering had at least two lecturers. The Dean of the faculty decided to give students the choice of switching from other departments into the computer engineering department since it seemed to be the department with the greatest number of lecturers. To my surprise, all the other students in my department left for other departments; I became the only student left. The engineering school in the University of Ghana is very new. The first group of graduates finished in June 2008. I am among the second batch of admitted students into the Faculty of Engineering Sciences.

You may ask how I survived as the only student. I admit that I first had to understand the programme by way of its job and future prospects and a little about the necessary prerequisite courses. Basically the job opportunities were enormous and the requisite courses were chemistry, physics and mathematics, while biology students would be advantaged slightly when it comes to biomaterials.

You may also wonder why I am talking about my experience in the university. It opened my eyes to a reality of which I was previously unaware. Many people, including academicians and professionals of other engineering disciplines, are completely oblivious to the field of materials science and engineering. The number of materials industries in Ghana as of now is relatively small. Historically, civilizations have been closely tied to the types of materials they have used. Our land is blessed with all that we need to develop a vibrant materials industry.

There can only be significant change when people are equipped with the knowledge and capacity to process new materials. How can this become a reality when people are shying away from the profession, for reasons best known only to them? “Ghana has a problem and it is a materials problem” are the words of Mr. Lucas Damoah, a member of the Faculty of Engineering Sciences.
Materials science or nothing else” were the words I spoke to my Dean when he asked if I wished to switch to computer engineering.

I write this piece to sound a clarion call to all and sundry to consider personal, active participation in developing the materials-based industries in our country. After all, the mineral companies that are generating millions of cedis for the country are metallurgical industries.

Think of the numerous problems that bedevil our nation, such as plastic waste, energy insufficiency, and lack of industries. All these result from a lack of the basic starting materials needed for production. The earlier we give attention to the education of materials science and engineering professionals, the better it would for the nation’s development.


domefafa atiso said...

This is really a wonderful,inspiring and challenging experience.Material science is and will continue to be the mother of all engineering sciences.Believe me you have made the best choice in your life. Kudos my brother.

Harley Watts said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Daniel Addo said...

Hello... Professor Kwadwo Osseo-Asare.
I am Daniel, a graduate from Knust. I offered materials science and engineering. I am looking for someone to mentor me in the field and I am hoping you could be the one. My email is sirrdaniel1@gmail.com. Thank you

Kwadwo Osseo-Asare said...

Daniel Addo: I invite you to attend the African Materials Research Society Conference (Accra December 6 -11 2015; http://www.africamrs.co.za/Home.html). See you there!

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