Thursday, December 3, 2009

Minerals as Natural Materials, Materials as Engineered Minerals

NOTE: The 5th Africa MRS conference (plus the 8th Nigerian Materials Congress [NIMACON 2009]) takes place Dec. 14-18, 2009 in Abuja. The theme is "Nanotechnology, Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technology for Africa." I’ve previously blogged on earlier A-MRS conferences. I'll be presenting several papers. I hope to see some of you there.

One question I keep asking myself and others is "What should the meaning of 'the field of materials science and engineering in Africa' be today?" Should we mimic the practice in the advanced countries where minerals are separated from other materials?

Very often at conferences in or about Africa, one sees people repeatedly mention the same problems: water, health, energy, environment, food and agriculture. Never do they mention minerals (e.g., see J. D. Sachs' comments "How Science And Medical Communities Can Help Governments Achieve The Millennium Development Goals" on page 17, the 2005 ASADI (African Science Academy Development Initiative) final conference report.

Yet the news is filled with stories about how African minerals (gold, diamonds, tin, coltan, etc.) are driving violence and many of the civil wars on the continent
. I feel very strongly that Africa cannot afford to follow the advanced countries and sever this link between materials and minerals.

In December 2004, I presented at the 3rd US/Africa Implementation Meeting and US/Africa Materials Workshop, in Cairo, Egypt, an NSF-sponsored workshop focusing on sustainable materials processing research. In a talk titled "Minerals as Materials, Materials as Minerals," I presented this idea of the integral connection between the two, one I continue to champion.

Friday, August 14, 2009

If you educate a girl, Part III

Another role model for African women scientists and engineers is Dr. Elsie Effah Kaufmann, the Head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering Sciences at the University of Ghana. Educated at the University of Pennsylvania, she works tirelessly both in her field professionally and to engage students in- and out-side the classroom.

While Ghana's government has stated its commitment to achieving equal education of boys and girls by the year 2015, all too often these types of lofty goals remain unfulfilled. Dr. Kaufmann is not only a role model, she is also an outspoken advocate for the education of girls. This is evident in an address she gave at the speech and prize-giving day at Akuse Methodist Senior High Technical School in March 2008.

After noting that "girl-children" (the UN defines a girl-child as a female child between 0 and 18) are almost invisible, she estimates that they form approximately 75% of the female population and approximately 38% of Ghana's total population, meaning there are almost 9 million girl children in the country. She further notes that the unequal treatment of females commences at birth when one inquires about the gender of the child "'What did she have, boy or girl?' and the shocking response" if it is a boy, " 'owoo nipa,' meaning 'she had a human being,' the implication being that the alternative is a non-human."

Girls are expected to marry, and "Before the 'marriage destiny' is accomplished, the girl-child is expected to keep herself busy in the kitchen, supposedly learning the skills necessary to prepare her for her role as wife and mother, while in fact bearing a significantly higher share of the domestic work than her male siblings." (bolding mine). Dr. Kaufmann claims that "On average girls marry at around age 15, while boys marry from 18 years. In some communities it is not surprising to find girls married at age 13."

However, she remains optimistic about the future, quoting Nelson Mandela ("education is the most powerful weapon that can be used to change the world") and concluding that the education of the girl-child becomes even more critical. "There is a great deal of evidence pointing to the fact that economies grow faster, that the poor move out of poverty more quickly and that the general well-being of all members of the community is enhanced when gender equity is promoted."

Dr. Kaufmann is quite clear that she is not trying to undermine the critically important roles of wife and mother. "The roles of mother and wife are probably the most important that a great majority of females will assume. An educated mother is unlikely to perpetuate the marginalization of the girl-child. High self-esteem in a mother makes it natural for her to see the potential in her female child and she becomes a role model for that child." In a moving anecdote, she tells how she remembers "clearly the day one of my daughters, a girl-child, approached me to ask if it was true that women could not be weather forecasters. She felt she could be a good weather woman in future, but she had never seen one and the house help had told her that weather forecasting was a man's job."

Her concluding advice to the graduating girls at Akuse was that they should have a purpose and dream and go after their dreams. "Sure you will have to make sacrifices, but do not sacrifice your basic rights away by always considering yourselves last. You deserve to succeed."

To others she advises ". . .we must teach girl-children to be self-confident. They need to be made to recognize and understand their responsibility as equal partners and contributors to the community's development agenda. We should encourage and empower them to enter professions and areas of study which can nurture and develop their leadership abilities and give them opportunities to participate in high-level decision-making. This will serve to enable them to contribute towards development and at the same time, give them the chance to be future role models for girl-children who need education and direction."

An organization based in the U.S., CAMFED (Campaign for Female Education) is very active in promoting Dr. Kaufmann's vision in sub-Saharan Africa. Africans need to initiate, support, and insist upon similar programs throughout the continent.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Conversations about Mineral Industry Education: Prof. Richard Amankwah of UMaT, Ghana

African mineral scientists and engineers need to share their stories, their observations, and their thoughts on the field with their peers and young people. From time to time, I will feature some of these on this blog. Prof. Richard K. Amankwah, Associate Professor of Mineral Engineering, University of Mines and Technology (UMaT) in Tarkwa, Ghana, recently visited Penn State University. I took the opportunity to have a brief conversation with him about his background and training, and some of his thoughts on the general topic of minerals industry education and research in Africa. In the first part of the interview Prof. Amankwah shares about his childhood and early education through his bachelors and masters studies at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). Next our conversation moves to the beginnings of his academic career at UMaT and the ensuing Ph. D. research at Queen's University in Canada. The conversation concludes with his post-doctoral academic career and thoughts about the future.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

If you educate a girl, Part II

While there are some role models for African women scientists and engineers, these pioneers need much more visibility and more public acknowledgment of their work. Women often face challenges that their male colleagues do not, given the gender division of labor in much of Africa. From time to time, this blog will highlight contemporary examples, and readers are invited to suggest others. Today's blog posting features:

Marian Ewurama Addy, a Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts & Science since 1999, is a Ghanaian with a doctorate in biochemistry from the Pennsylvania State University (1971). She studied botany and chemistry at the University of Ghana. Dr. Addy has a passionate interest in "bridging the gap between scientific and indigenous knowledge" and "the popularization of science." In 2003 she presented the Academy's J. B. Danquah Memorial Lecture, 3 lectures on the topic "Training the Next Generation of Scientists," which were published as a monograph in 2004.

She has been very active in the international community [e.g., as a Regional Secretary for the Committee on Science and Technology in Developing Countries,
COSTED, a committee of the International Council for Science (ICSU), and helping to establish Western African Network of Natural Products Research Scientists (WANNPRES)] and has won many awards. She was named the "Marketing Woman of the Year" in 1995 for her "marketing," not of the usual goods, but of "Science."

She began her first Danquah lecture with words of confession borrowed from religion: "We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done." Her monograph is highly recommended.

A couple more representative quotes from it include:

“….(Students) take courses in science subjects……The practical component of the program may be dismissed in one phrase: subject to availability of funds…..The fact that finance is the main problem with respect to capacity building in the sciences is acknowledged…Yet, there has been no special initiative to find solutions to the problem. When it comes to science, we in Ghana want to go to heaven but we do not want to die.” (p. 14)

“Education is a war against ignorance. Quality science education is not cheap. If we are serious about science education, we should declare war on ignorance and provide the necessary resources to fight it” (p. 32).

Friday, May 1, 2009

If you educate a girl. . . you educate a nation, Part I

Last year while in Ghana I attended some of the Founders' Day activities of Achimota, the boarding school I attended for 7 years (1960-1967) as a secondary student. It is a time set aside every year to reflect on and appreciate the school's founders and alumni. I was moved by one speaker's message who remarked how the founders could not imagine that over 80 years after Achimota's beginning it would make so many impressive contributions to the nation's development. The school's motto is Latin for "that all may be one," and its crest is black and white piano keys, representing how all must work together to create something harmonious.

The implied message that day was that there is value in building for the future. I liked that. One important area of the school's leadership was the introduction of coed boarding schools. Taking the logo seriously, the school applied this truth to many areas of life, including race and ethnicity, rural and urban, but especially gender. Coed secondary schools were unknown in the 1920s, and the idea was quite controversial. One of the founders, Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey, is credited with going around the country allaying the fears of parents with this mantra: "If you educate a man you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family." These words eventually became the famous quote: "If you educate a boy, you educate an individual, but if you educate a girl, you educate a nation." Many important female leaders were trained at Achimota. A small sample includes Joyce Aryee (CEO of the Ghana Chamber of Mines), Dr. Esther Afua Ocloo (a pioneering woman industrialist), Dr. Susan Ofori-Atta (the first Ghanaian woman physician), and Judge Prof. Akua Kuenyehia (Judge, International Criminal Court, The Hague) and Dr. Letitia Obeng (Ghana's first woman scientist in zoology).

Originally girls made up 10% of the student body, but today the numbers of boys and girls are essentially equal. The current (Mrs. Beatrice T. Adom) and two previous (Mrs. Adelaide Kwami and Mrs. Charlotte Brew-Graves) principals of the school are all women. Also, the current President of the Old Achimotan Association (OAA) is a woman, "Akora" Sarah Nuno Mansaray to the left in the photo on the right, with another alumna who is a physician.

I must reflect sadly that despite this insightful vision of equality, the University of Ghana and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, both of which had their roots in Achimota, have yet to produce a female Vice-Chancellor (President).

I am intensely aware of the urgent need to reassert the importance of women in science and engineering education and to seriously encourage women to enter these fields. My next blog will present a few of the women who are role models for the future.

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.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Materials Society of Nigeria

When the surprise invitation to present at the November 2008 meeting of NIMACON, the Nigerian Materials Congress (a meeting of the Nigerian Materials Research Society) arrived, I already had plans to visit the African University of Science and Technology (AUST) in Abuja, Nigeria. It was therefore a fortunate coincidence and I happily incorporated NIMACON into my travel plans.

This was the 7th annual conference. I had not realized Nigeria's MRS had been in existence for 7 years: the founding of this professional society therefore preceded that of MRS-Africa by a couple of years.

The theme of the 2008 meeting was "Materials Development and the Vision 2020." However it was energized by another event: I arrived in Nigeria on Tuesday, November 4, the day of the U.S. presidential election. By November 5 the news of Obama's historic victory had spread around the world. That morning when I arrived at the Engineering Materials Development Institute where the meeting was held, it was clear that the optimism from Obama's successful campaign had permeated the place. It was as if the delegates' mood shifted Obama's campaign slogan "yes we can!" to replace the original theme. Repeatedly during the presentations a speaker might encounter a challenge (e.g., an uncooperative computer projector), and the audience would encourage him/her with a cheerful "yes, we can." Or, a speaker would point to the challenges confronting researchers, due to the lack of research infrastructure. . ."Yes we can!"

The 4 technical sessions at the 2008 congress included:

Developments in Modeling and Simulation
Developments in Nanomaterials, Biomaterials, Electronic Materials and Energy
Developments in Fibers, Textiles, Ceramics and Composite Materials
Developments in Minerals and Materials Processing

NIMACON 2008 was a collaborative effort with sponsorship from the following groups:

National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), Abuja

Engineering Materials Development Institute (EMDI), Akure

Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Abuja

Sheda Science and Technology Complex (SHESTCO), Abuja

National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Abuja

Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute (NBRRI), Abuja

The next AFRICA-MRS meeting will be held in Abuja later this year (2009). Start making plans now to attend!

Friday, April 3, 2009

African proverbs--teaching and learning materials science and engineering

In September 2008 I posted a blog about my experiment using African proverbs to teach students materials science and engineering at the University of Ghana, and in December 2008 I followed that up with a blog sharing similar experiences while teaching at AUST in Abuja, Nigeria. It was a wonderful surprise to learn that the students I taught at AUST in November 2008 are still reflecting on the assignment I gave them.

Here is a recent contribution shared by Clement Domefafa Atiso:

The following two proverbs are from the Volta Region of Ghana (in West Africa) and are shown in Ewe, followed by their literal English translation and an attempt to relate them to the science of materials.

“Heti be mekaye o, gake ne na ne dzo de dzi la, aba gbo wa koe ayie”
Straw says that he does not care, but if he finds himself in trouble, he goes to mat for help.

Relevance to materials science and engineering: A mat is a carpet-like material obtained by weaving straws together. When spread on the floor it is used for sleeping or sitting. It is also used outside for activities requiring people to sit on the ground. To understand how materials function we must first know how they behave at their microscopic level. For instance, the human body is made of several organs but the basic building blocks are cells. An accurate and down-to-core understanding of how cells function and interact with each other will help to predict an organ’s behavior at the macroscopic level. In other words, macroscopic properties are often the manifestation of microscopic properties, thus both are inseparable. So is straw to mat, since mat is stronger, but it is made of many straws woven together.

“Nuyi atso vo na etsoa la, le ye to fe adome."
“What will circumcise the horse is found within itself" (or, The horse has within itself what it needs to become a circumsized animal).

Relevance to materials science and engineering: this proverb basically means that solutions to problems are frequently found within the problems themselves. A typical example is found in fracture mechanics. Fracture mechanics is a branch of materials science and engineering involving the study of how materials break. If we have a thorough idea about how materials fracture, we can design them to minimize their failure rates. Airplanes were formerly designed with rectangular windows, but right angles in shapes constitute high areas of stress concentration which easily initiate cracks leading to fractures. That is why planes' windows are now designed as ovals: rounded corners have less stress on them than square ones. Most materials science and engineering problems have their solutions embedded in themselves. Materials scientists and engineers need only to learn how to uncover and utilize them.

Thanks to Mr. Atiso (Fafa) for keeping this conversation going. Does anyone else have anything to add?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ghana Materials Industry, Part 4

I first heard about the Metalex group in March 2008 during my sabbatical leave at the University of Ghana. Several things intrigued me about the company: I learned during our first telephone conversation that the CEO and I attended the same middle school, Abetifi Presbyterian Boys Middle School (though separated by many moons), located in the beautiful Kwahu mountains in Eastern Ghana; also, his company dealt in a wide range of materials, including clay, plastic, and metal products. Unfortunately, when I called to arrange a plant visit he was on his way to Togo on business and would not be able to meet personally with us. I was interested to discover that he had customers in a neighboring country.

It turned out that on the appointed day for our plant tour, the terrific Accra traffic prevented us from completing both of our planned plant trips in a day so we were unable to visit Metalex, after all.

When I found out I would be in West Africa at the end of October, I seized the opportunity to travel to Metalex. Colleague Lucas Damoah from the Materials Science and Engineering department at the University of Ghana was available and made the necessary arrangements for us to visit the Metalex clay products factory in Accra as part of our on-going project on the documentation of the materials industry in Ghana [previous plant trips are featured in earlier blogs: (to ICM ventures in Tema) Ghana Materials Industry, Part 1, (to Ceramica Tamakloe in Dodowa near Accra) Ghana Materials Industry, Part 2, (to Ekem Ceramics and Mbroh Ceramics, Ltd., both in Winneba) Ghana Materials Industry, Part 3].

We quickly saw that the dynamic Mr. K. Adjare Danquah, the CEO of Metalex, ( is an entrepreneur burning with an evangelist's fire.

On education:
  • "The English language has been used to destroy people." He cites the case of the plant which when it was given the English name "Jantropha" made Ghanaians feel like it was something new and different, even though they had long known it by its indigenous names--for example, "Nkaneadua" in Akan.
  • He has plans for a vocational/technical school, where English will only be offered as a subject, and all the technical courses will be taught in a local language.
On success:
  • "To be successful one must be able to change one's disadvantage into advantage. . . You are told you need capital to start a business but you can find a way to circumvent that. . ."
  • "In life one has to be willing to start from point 1. But so many people want to just arrive at point 20 without putting in the necessary effort."
  • In Africa we don't just (need to) talk about quality, we (need to) talk about quantity. If you just focus on quality you will fail. Those who want to wait till they have the perfect plan/product, will never start anything."

On the attitude of the youth:
  • "After university they don't want to dirty their hands."
On accounting and mathematics:
  • "A subject like Accounting should be compulsory. "Obi nim akontaa a n'ani mmere sika" (Those with quantitative skills are not envious of other people's money.)
On culture:
  • "If you want to succeed take culture into consideration. Where are you going to site your plant? You may have to deal with pronouncements like: 'During this festival week you cannot collect clay for your factory.'
On learning from nature:
  • "Everything you want to do, ask yourself: How did God make it?"
  • "Every person is like a seed: if you place it on the shelf it can stay forever. But if you put it in the soil it decays and then sprouts. Nothing sprouts right away; it decays first."
Fledgling companies and young entrepreneurs would do well to gain from Mr. Danquah's rich experience and heed his wise advice.
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