They have helped to introduce Green Chemistry, an emerging field of sustainable science that will help African nations to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Green Chemistry — a field in which The University of Nottingham is a world leader — focuses on greener ways of creating chemicals, and is now regarded as one of the major routes to more environmentally-friendly production of the chemicals that underpin modern society.
The work of Nottingham academics with their colleagues in Ethiopia, detailed in the online version of the journal Science, began with a chance meeting four years ago. Today it is sufficiently developed to enable African scientists to participate more fully in the search for new chemicals, processes and techniques that could impact on millions of people.
Much current research is focused on the search for renewable feedstocks and more environmentally acceptable solvents as replacements for petroleum-based products. This makes Green Chemistry particularly relevant to the needs of African countries such as Ethiopia, faced with an increasing demand for chemicals, little or no indigenous oil, and rapidly expanding populations.
The collaboration started with a chance meeting between Dr Nigist Asfaw and Professor Martyn Poliakoff, who heads research into Green Chemistry at The University of Nottingham, while the latter was on holiday in Ethiopia.
Over the next four years, links were gradually developed and strengthened through staff visits, conferences, workshops and collaborative research. Today, the Ethiopian scientists have established an international presence and are on the brink of their first conference for chemists from across the whole of Africa.
Ethiopian PhD student Haregewine Tadesse is currently in the second year of her PhD in Dr Peter Licence’s research group at The University of Nottingham. Haregewine has made a very strong start, having already authored a high-profile scientific paper for publication and addressed a meeting of the RSC Archives for Africa at the Houses of Parliament. A second Ethiopian postgraduate, Mr Bitu Biru, is due to join in September to start a PhD in the subject.
Professor Poliakoff and Dr Licence have co-authored a paper in Science Express with Dr Asfaw and Dr Temechegn Engida, of Addis Ababa University.
They write in Science Express: “Green Chemistry provides a unique opportunity for African chemists because it combines the search for new science with the development of sustainable chemical technologies appropriate to the needs of the community.
“Therefore, the resources of Africa — intense sunlight, unique plant species and enthusiastic young people — present its chemists with scientific opportunities, less readily available in many other countries.
“With modest funding and overseas support, a determined group of Ethiopian scientists has established an international presence within only four years. It is a model which perhaps can be replicated elsewhere.”
Green chemistry is now well established at Addis Ababa University and the collaboration has led to a number of other key developments, notably:
- The establishment of Addis Ababa University as an Overseas Chapter of the American Chemical Society, Green Chemistry Institute.
- The formation of the Federation of African Societies of Chemistry, bringing together scientists from across Africa.
- 1st Annual FASC conference to be held in Addis Ababa in September 2007 — with Green Chemistry as its theme.
- Nottingham PhD student Haregewine Tadesse and Nottingham academic Dr Robert Mokaya, a Kenyan, spoke at the launch of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Archive for Africa. The launch of the Archive means that African scientists will have free access to the latest research published in key scientific journals.
- Research and staff links between Nottingham and Addis Ababa University, including appointment of Dr Peter Licence as visiting professor, making extended visits to Addis Ababa to participate in teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.
Professor Poliakoff and his colleagues wrote in Science Express: “Our collaboration has been intellectually rewarding for all of those involved and it has been particularly helpful in developing the careers of the younger participants. However, this was only possible because our Ethiopian colleagues had already built a strong chemistry department at their university.
“Having overseas scientists to champion their work on the international scene has clearly been valuable to the chemists in Ethiopia.
“We strongly urge other scientists to consider championing an African country so that their needs can be more loudly articulated in the international arena and their scientists empowered to meet the tremendous challenges of the future."
Emma Thorne | alfa
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