Professor Paul O’Brien to lead Royal Society initiative in Africa

Building Excellence in Materials Chemistry in Sub Saharan Africa: The People, the Team, and Teams Cameroon, Ghana South Africa and UK

Professor Paul O’Brien FRS will lead a new Royal Society Department for International Development (DFID) programme in Africa from February of 2015. The team will consolidate existing collaborations in the area of materials chemistry involving the UK, Cameroon, Ghana and South Africa. Joint publications exist between the UK and all of these partners, and independently between South Africa and the Cameroon. The team has further cemented their interactions using the pump priming grants with visits from the UK to all partners and between various others.

The team will be led by Professor O’Brien in the UK. Major aspects of the leadership will lie with Professor Neerish Revaprasadu FGSSAf (a Paul O’Brien Group London alumnus). In Zululand, the Ghanians are led by Johannes Awdze (a UMIST PhD) and the leader in Cameroon is Peter Ndfion.

The proposal to the Royal Society was built on experience in capacity building stretching back over more than 18 years. Professor O’Brien initially worked with the University of Zululand soon after the democratization of South Africa. A programme of Royal Society funded work at the historically black University of Zululand, between 1996 and 2004, was principally aimed at training staff at the University, and raising the quality of both teaching and research. The work was spectacularly successful and an alumnus of the programme, Professor Neerish Revaprasadu, is now an SARCHi NRF Professor of Nanotechnology at the University. Subsequently Professor O’Brien has worked in Ghana and Tanzania, and with Nigeria, Cameroon, Egypt and Kenya. Professors O’Brien and Revaprasadu have continued their successful collaboration, publishing over 40 high quality papers in the period since 1997, and exchanging staff and students on an ad hoc basis.

The Department of Chemistry at the University of Zululand has been recognised as a centre of excellence in Materials Chemistry in South Africa. The School in Kumasi is active, with a good cohort of postgraduates, undergraduates and an active faculty ripe for development. Joint work between Ghana and the UK has been funded to date by the RS Leverhulme programme, and a cohort of able co-workers is available. One of the Kumasi team has already obtained his PhD and two others are in the process of completing - all with support from the RS Leverhulme programme. Between Cameroon, the UK and South Africa there have been ad hoc collaborations, including work with Linda Nyamen, leading to the first Anglophone Chemistry Ph.D. in the country.

The programme, extending over 5 years, is valued at £ 1.15 M and will start with a planning meeting in Richards Bay, South Africa, in February.

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