African Physics Newsletter

U.S. – Africa Initiative in Electronic Structure

Two workshops are planned to develop collaborations between African and American scientists.

The U.S. – Africa Initiative in Electronic Structure (USAfri) aims to create a platform for exchange between African and U.S. physicists with opportunities to have a significant impact on research and education in Africa. It is supported by the American Physical Society Innovation Fund for two workshops, the first in Africa, where participants initially meet to identify common interests, and one a year later in the U.S., followed by individual visits of African physicists to research groups and user facilities in the U.S. to further develop potential collaborations.

Electronic Structure is a natural choice for developing these collaborations because it is an essential part of materials research with applications in many fields especially relevant to addressing Africa’s needs. Moreover, there is already a network of capable researchers in Africa generated by sustained efforts over the past ten years by the African School for Electronic Structure Methods and Applications (ASESMA).

Collaborate in first-rate international research

The goal of the Initiative is to provide professional opportunities for African scientists to collaborate in first-rate international research and to multiply the effect by fostering interactions with others at their home institutions.

The project leaders are Renata Wentzcovitch (Columbia University), Sinéad Griffin (Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory), Richard Martin (University of Illinois and Stanford University), and Omololu Akin-Ojo, Director of the East African Institute of Fundamental Research (EAIFR) in Kigali. EAIFR is a category 2 UNESCO Institute in Rwanda with the goal of carrying out research and discoveries for African development and advancement with MSc, Ph.D., and visiting scientist programs, as well as short courses and workshops. EAIFR is poised to be an important physics hub in Africa and is the center for the African component of the Initiative.

Connecting scientists and students

Stephon Alexander (Brown University) is president of the National Society of Black Physicists in the U.S. which plans to increase its involvement in Africa, connecting scientists and students on the two continents through the Initiative.

The USAfri workshops were originally planned to be held in 2020 and 2021; however, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, each workshop is delayed a year. The first workshop is now planned for June 2021 at the EAIFR, with around 30 faculty members and advanced students from Africa and 15 from the U.S. with online virtual components, which will allow greater participation.

Initiate joint projects

The goal is to have U.S. and African scientists and students meet to identify areas of common interest and initiate potential joint projects.

The second workshop is planned for early June 2022 at Columbia University in New York City with around 60 participants, including 20 from Africa. After the workshop, each participant from Africa will visit a group in a U.S. research institution for one to two weeks.

African scientists in U.S. facilities

This visit will immerse the African scientists in U.S. facilities and research groups to provide opportunities for their work, seed collaborations, or continue ones already in progress.

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic makes it harder to have in-person interactions and collaborations, it also provides opportunities for many more people to participate virtually online. Already, many seminars at U.S. institutions are freely available and many meetings and courses are online.

A sizable virtual component

The Initiative workshops will have a sizable virtual component at a central hub site with a stable internet connection (EAIFR) and potentially at other hubs in Africa with functional connectivity and equipment for real-time interactions. Virtual posters provide opportunities for students and others to present their work.

With sufficient connectivity, there can be discussions face-to-face (virtually), and even at places with poor connections, there is the opportunity to present posters and recorded descriptions. Of course, this is not limited to the U.S. and Africa. The global efforts of science involve people everywhere, and our greatest progress is made through collaborations of people with different expertise and different backgrounds.

Applications needed

Already over 50 physicists in the U.S. have committed to searching for common interests that may lead to collaborations with African scientists through this Initiative, with many more outside the field expressing interest in seeding similar efforts in their areas of expertise. A large number of African scientists have indicated interest following an initial call from EAIFR.

Because of the delay due to COVID-19, the deadline for applications has been extended until January 31, 2021. Fill the application form. Those who have already applied do not need to apply again.

Omololu Akin-Ojo, Sinéad Griffin, Richard Martin, Renata Wentzcovitch, and Stephon Alexander

This post has first been published in the African Physics Newsletter - © American Physical Society, 2020



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