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International News: Dakar Workshop Fosters Research Collaborations in Africa

Dennis Matthews (extreme left) and Kennedy Reed (extreme right) with hospital staff members during visit to Yoff Hospital in Dakar to discuss interests in medical applications of lasers
Dennis Matthews (extreme left) and Kennedy Reed (extreme right) with hospital staff members during visit to Yoff Hospital in Dakar to discuss interests in medical applications of lasers

Scientists from the US, Europe and ten African countries - Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal, and South Africa - gathered in Dakar, Senegal, December 14-18, 1998, for the International Workshop On Spectroscopy and Applications. Its purpose was to highlight recent developments in spectroscopy, with particular emphasis on basic atomic and molecular spectroscopy and applications in medicine, agriculture and environmental monitoring. It was also intended to stimulate interest in developing research collaborations between scientists in Africa and their US and European counterparts, and to promote regional scientific cooperation in Africa.

The workshop was jointly sponsored by The University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar (UCAD), the European Physical Society (EPS) and the American Physical Society (APS). Other sponsors who provided support were The International Centre for Theoretical Physics (Trieste, Italy), the International Program in Physical Sciences (Uppsala, Sweden), the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP), and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

The principal organizers of the workshop were Ahmadou Wague (from UCAD), Annick Suzor-Weiner (from University of Paris-Sud, and a representative of EPS), and Kennedy Reed (from LLNL, and a member of the APS Committee on International Scientific Affairs). Reed was an ICTP Visiting Scientist at UCAD in 1997, and has spearheaded an APS initiative to increase interactions between the American and African physics communities.

The scientific program covered a spectrum of topics in basic and applied AMO physics. It included lectures on molecular spectroscopy by Delores Gauyacq from University of Paris, Orsay, and on the spectroscopy of doubly excited states in helium-like systems by UCAD's Ahmadou Wague. Augustine Smith, from Morehouse College, described his work with high resolution x-ray spectroscopy at LLNL's Electron Beam Ion Trap Facility, conducted under the auspices of the LLNL Research Collaborations Program for Historically Black Colleges and Minority Institutions. LLNL's Reed lectured on electron impact excitation and ionization of highly charged ions. Some contributed talks by African participants involved applications of spectroscopy in agriculture and environmental monitoring, as well as spectroscopic methods in chemistry.

Elias Sideras-Haddad of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, discussed his work in Accelerator-based Mass Spectrometry (AMS) which can be applied in diverse interdisciplinary research efforts in Africa. He also described applications of AMS to paleontology, archeology, and anthropology - a topic which proved especially fascinating in light of recent discoveries in Africa related to the origins and early history of humans. Haddad is working to create an AMS center in South Africa which will serve as a nucleus for research collaborations involving countries throughout the African continent, and will also be a training center for graduate students and post-doctoral researchers.

One session was devoted to medical applications of lasers. S. Avrillier from Orsay discussed the use of lasers for medical diagnosis and Dennis Matthews, program leader of the Joint Medical Technology Program at LLNL, spoke on the use of lasers for a variety of medical treatment applications. R. Diouf from UCAD in Dakar, showed how lasers have been successfully used in the treatment of laryngeal papillomatose, a type of throat tumor which occurs in some parts of Africa. And Seringne Gueye, a urologist at UCAD, described the use of lasers in prostate surgery and in treatments of several urological disorders.

A group discussion on collaborations and scientific cooperation, chaired by Samuel Adjepong, Vice Chancellor from the University of Cape Coast in Ghana, brought out frustrations and pitfalls of working on international collaborations involving developing countries. One major problem is the lack of governmental or local support in the developing countries. Participants from the US and some European countries noted that the agencies in their countries do not offer much in terms of support for physical science research in developing countries.

Participants were given tours of the UCAD physics laboratories at the university. These featured demonstrations to show research being done with laser-induced fluorescence for studies of local plants, and atomic physics experiments making measurements of hyperfine interactions. Graduate students from the university manned the demonstrations providing a good opportunity for interaction with the students.

According to Reed, the workshop also provided an opportunity for some of the American and European participants to see how African physicists work with very limited resources and yet manage to produce some interesting results and to train students. For example, one UCAD scientist owns a small shop, which he uses to make crafts. He sells these in order to help support his research in material science at the university, and also uses the shop to make parts for some of his experiments.

Overall, participants considered the workshop an enormous success. "Hopefully workshops such as this one can promote more international interactions for African physicists," Reed said. Additionally, American and European scientists can benefit from the training and expertise of the African scientists, and learn from their resourcefulness."




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