African Physics Newsletter

Students’ Experiences in COVID: Students Speak About Their Activities During the COVID-19 Period

Last June, the African Physics Newsletter published reports by scientists about how they lived the COVID-19 lockdown. Today, let's read testimonies from PhD candidates.

Ragil NdongmoRagil Ndongmo, Ph.D. candidate, University of Yaoundé 1, Cameroon

Currently, I am doing my Ph.D. thesis in Cosmology at the University of Yaoundé 1 in Cameroon, and I am used to meeting regularly with my supervisor who is in my university. Unfortunately, as soon as the health crisis started, we suddenly stopped meeting and that slightly slowed down research, since I had to work in an inappropriate environment, that is, to say, at home. I was forced to exchange my ideas with my supervisor virtually.

Even more, the crisis also hampered the review process of one manuscript that we submitted to a journal and the delay has been very long.

Moreover, I am also a science populariser and founded a scientific program called Science-Hightech, available on YouTube and Facebook, which aims to present scientific results of African researchers. Due to the pandemic, activities have been rare.

However, this allowed us to produce very interesting episodes related to the pandemic, which are available on the YouTube channel. These episodes focused on the awakening of Africa and the following were produced and published on social media:

Currently, activities are resuming; about research, my Ph.D. colleagues and I started to work directly with our supervisors. Concerning the Science-Hightech program, we started to get closer again to Cameroonian researchers, encouraging them to show the results of their research to the public.

At the end, as it might be possible that we live with the pandemic for a while, we should learn to get used to it; efforts to contain the pandemic such as hygiene measures and distancing have at least enabled us to work physically.

I have to admit that the pandemic has given more credit to science, and we hope to face less science denial during our science spreading actions.


Patrick Ning’i, Technical University of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya

My name is Patrick Ning’i, a final year student of Bachelor of Technology in Technical and Applied Physics at the Technical University of Kenya. During this lock-down period, I have been doing several things. To start with, I have used this period to finish up my final undergraduate project titled "The Interplay of Lattice Distortion and Bands Near the Fermi Level in ATiO3 (A=Ca, Sr, Ba)." I expect to present my work in an upcoming virtual conference that will be held in August. 

Having worked with the SIESTA ab initio code for a year now, I have also spent some considerable time tutoring junior students on how to use the system to investigate materials properties such as thermoelectricity as exhibited by compounds such as ScF3. When required, I also make tutorials on how to use various extensional tools that are involved in the materials modeling and investigation process, using standard open source plotting software. 

Apart from focusing on my degree work, I have also been actively engaged in several machine learning and data science projects since these are also my areas of interest. I have collaboratively worked on a Market Segmentation project using machine learning, as well as a Twitter Emotional Tracker using Natural Language Processing.  

I am currently thinking of how natural language processing can be used to support research in the field of Materials Science. One approach that I have thought of is to create a customized word embedding model using text data, for different Materials Science research articles. This idea has already been implemented. Nevertheless, I believe that replicating it would be an important step towards coming up with a similar model with enhanced capabilities.


Sr. Mary Taabu Simiyu, University of Nairobi, Kenya

Sr. Mary Taabu Simiyu (M.Sc. Physics) is a Roman Catholic nun from the congregation of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus and a Ph.D. student in Condensed Matter Physics at the University of Nairobi, Kenya. She is an award winner of the 3 Minute Thesis competition at the University of Ghana in 2019, and of the Entrepreneurship and Oral presentations at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology in 2015. 

She has had a passion for serving the poor since childhood and believes her project in water quality will help low-income earners in developing countries access safe water. Sister Mary has published a paper on “Application of An Organic Plant-Derived Binder in the Fabrication of Diatomaceous Earth Waste-Based Membranes for Water Purification Systems” in the journal Materials Research Society Advances, and this work is still in progress.

In her earlier works, Sister Mary worked on “Application of Raman Spectroscopy in the Detection of Aflatoxin B1 in Maize Kernels and flour.” She has done fellowships at BITRI, the Botswana Institute for Technology Research and Innovation, and the University of York.

During this COVID-19 lock down, Sister Mary has been carrying out experiments on water purification using magnetic fields. She has also been working on her Ph.D. thesis.

She has been able to submit two papers for publication and she is still drafting two more. Apart from research, Sister Mary has been actively involved in humanitarian acts of feeding the poor during this pandemic.


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


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