Sunday, August 15, 2010

If you educate a girl, Part VI

Yesterday (August 14, 2010) Grace Ofori-Sarpong officially became Dr. Grace Ofori-Sarpong. It was a pleasure to escort my student during the procession for Penn State University's Graduate School Summer Commencement exercise. When I put the hood on her I passed on to her my blessings with a quiet prayer that she would return to the University of Mines and Technology (UMaT, Tarkwa, Ghana) and help transform it from a man's world to a school that truly belongs to both women and men. As the first woman lecturer of this new university with a PhD, Dr. Ofori-Sarpong will no doubt have many opportunities to serve as a role model.

Grace's research on fungi-mediated aqueous processing of refractory (hard-to-treat) gold ores was supervised by Prof. Ming Tien and myself. This work is opening up new doors for biohydrometallurgy research. Dr. Ofori-Sarpong's findings established for the first time that certain fungi release metabolic products that can transform the chemical and physical characteristics of the natural carbon in such gold ores in ways that dramatically inhibit the otherwise undesirable uptake of dissolved gold cyanide complexes.

The challenge now is to find a way to keep her research work active as she returns to Ghana. She must set up an engineering microbiology lab from scratch in an academic environment which does not yet have a serious tradition of externally funded research. Given her track record at Penn State, I have every confidence that if there are research funds available anywhere in the world, she'll find a way to submit successful research proposals. Grace: Ayekoo!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

If you educate a girl, Part V

I thought it would be interesting to hear from the women students at AUST a little bit about their backgrounds, their undergraduate education, what attracted them to their academic fields. . . Some of their answers were surprising. In this blog posting and coming ones, I'll feature short conversations I had with 4 of the women during my visit to AUST late last year.

The first video clip features Toyin Iyowu, a first year graduate student in petroleum engineering.

Friday, April 2, 2010

If you educate a girl, Part IV

In December, 2009, AUST (the African University of Science and Technology) in Abuja, Nigeria, celebrated its first graduation. 42 students received graduate degrees (MS and PGD [post graduate diploma]) in the fields of computer science, materials sci-
ence and engineering, mathe-
matics, petroleum engineering and theoretical physics. They came from several sub-Saharan African countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda).

While we celebrate the fact that the first batch of students is out we cannot ignore the fact that only 2 of the 42 were women. It is noteworthy that one of these women, Azeb Demisi Habte, was recognized as the graduate with the Overall Best Student Research Project.

We can be optimistic about the future. The picture above shows that the number of women in the second batch of students has increased. Since AUST aspires to be a leading institution of science and technology, we expect these young women will be role models. We also acknowledge the fact that the Chair of the AUST Board of Trustees is a woman: Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (see picture), Managing Director, World Bank Group.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Minerals as Materials, Materials as Minerals, Part 2

In November, 2009 I taught a course in materials processing (MS 603) at AUST, in Abuja, Nigeria. The following assignment was designed to encourage the students to appreciate the minerals-materials linkage, and to go beyond factual information to conceptual understanding and problem-solving:
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Process Evaluation and Design Project

From Minerals to Materials: Adding Value to Our Solid Mineral Resources Through Aqueous Processing

Your country’s new Minister of Science and Technology just returned from an African Union Ministerial Forum on Science and Technology where she participated in a panel discussion on using Africa’s natural resource base as a springboard for technological advancement. She was disturbed to learn of the manner in which African governments (including her own) have historically failed to come up with science and technology policies that seriously seek to add value to their countries’ solid mineral resources. She also heard presentations that pushed the idea of “resource curse” as well as those that vehemently challenged this idea. (See, for example, J. D. Sachs and A. M. Warner, “Natural Resources and Economic Development. The Curse of Natural Resources,European Econ. Rev., 45, 827-838 (2001), G. Wright and J. Czelusta, “Mineral Resources and Economic Development”, 2003.)

Upon her return from the forum, the Minister instructed the Director General (DG) of your country’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to provide her with a comprehensive report on the state of the minerals and materials industry in the country. In connection with this, your boss, the Director of the Center for Materials Research in Aqueous Systems (CMRAS) has asked you to contribute to an initial study to provide management with critical baseline data and assessment. Your work is to focus on aqueous-based chemical processing technologies.

Prepare a report for management in response to this request. Your report should:

(a) Identify two important (and different) solid mineral resources (deposits) in your country that are amenable to aqueous processing - either in the extraction or engineered materials synthesis and processing stages. Indicate the location and extent of these resources. What are the important ore minerals associated with the deposits and what are the valuable metals therein?
(b) What are these metals and minerals used for? What are some commercial products which are based on the metals and/or minerals?
(c) Select one of the deposits. Describe the current nature and level of industrial activity (e.g., is
the deposit being mined? Is there any mineral processing? Is there any hydrometallurgical processing? Are there known serious mining/processing environmental problems?)
(d) What are the opportunities you see for adding further value to these resources? What specific contributions do you see for aqueous processing techniques (e.g., in connection with the metal extraction, engineered materials synthesis and processing stages, or environmental aspects).
(e) Select one of the “opportunities” identified in (d) above and describe, as quantitatively as possible, the relevant aqueous processing schemes.
(f) In view of your research findings pertaining to items (a) to (e) above, what is your reaction to the “resource curse” debate?

The technical content of your report should be based on the principles and tools discussed in MS 603. In particular, your report should demonstrate your familiarity with the following process design tools:

(a) Reaction quotients and equilibrium constants
(b) Aqueous stability diagrams
(c) Speciation diagrams
(d) Dissolution, precipitation, and selectivity windows
(e) Reaction paths
(f) Conceptual flow diagrams

The professional-quality report should not be more than 15 pages long (double-spaced) total. Format: Title, Author’s Name and Affiliation, Abstract, Introduction, Other Relevant Headings/Subheadings, Summary and Conclusions, Acknowledgments, References.

At least two-thirds of the report should focus on aqueous processing proper. You should take advantage of relevant information in textbooks, the patent literature, the Internet, technical journals, conference proceedings, company brochures, and personal contacts (e.g., phone calls, e-mails). Be sure to consult more than one type of information source. Your report should clearly indicate some serious thinking on your part.

At a mini-symposium at the end of the course each student will make a 20-minute presentation to report his/her findings. There will be peer review of the presentations. The relevant evaluation forms will be provided. Attire: Business casual.

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NOTE: Again, this assignment was designed to challenge the students to reflect on and think broadly about their work as scientists and engineers. I wanted them to be aware of and appreciate the wider context and the policy implications of their science and engineering activities. It was also to nudge them towards viewing themselves as active participants in tackling Africa's science and technology challenges.
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