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Young African plasma physicist attends 2017 DPP meeting
By Arsene Tema Biwole
I was born in Bafoussam, Cameroon, on June 15, 1992. Due to my premature birth, I was sick throughout my childhood. My brothers and I only had our poor and single mother to take care of us. I still remember her, struggling hard to feed us daily. Despite the dire conditions in which I was born and raised, I dreamt of one day becoming a physicist. I tried so hard to hold onto that childhood dream, sometimes spending nights studying Newtonian physics close to the cooking fire, due to lack of electricity in the house.
My life took a major turn when I was selected by the Italian Embassy in Cameroon to study at an Italian university. I promised my mother that I would make her proud of me, so I left my family and my home country to follow my passion. In Italy, I studied nuclear engineering at the prestigious Polytechnic University of Turin. Being the only Cameroonian student in Italy engaged in nuclear science placed a huge responsibility upon me: the responsibility to go as far as possible, and prove that anyone can make his or her dream a reality, regardless of his or her background.
It was in trying to go farther that I flew in April 2017 to the United States of America to do research at General Atomics (GA) for my master’s degree thesis, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. I have had the most exciting and satisfying experience of my life, working with the fusion theory group at GA.
I would like to thank all the people who helped me achieve my goals, and especially my supervisor at GA, Sterling Smith, who always encourages and supports me. My sincere gratitude also goes to a special man Orso Meneghini at GA and his kind wife Luz. He believed in me, and provided everything during my adventure so that I stayed focused on my specific objectives. I would also like to thank my fiancée, Ashley for all of her love and support.
During this journey, I have drawn strength from thinking about my continent of Africa, ravaged by war and poverty, thinking about Cameroon, where the majority of the people cannot have a daily meal. Where single and poor women like my mother are crying and do not see any light at the end of the tunnel. I also draw my strength from my older brother, Ivan, engaged in a war against the Boko Haram terrorist group in the north of Cameroon. I call him every night to make sure he is alive.
Participating in the 59th APS Division of Plasma Physics meeting this year, as the first Cameroonian, still feels surreal to me. I am deeply honored and happy to be the first, and my mission is to make sure I won’t be the last.
As a matter of fact, my ultimate goal in life is to return to Cameroon, and teach the younger generations, as a physics professor. Using the knowledge and experience acquired, I would like to bring hope to youth all over the world. It is possible to start from Bafoussam, and be part of APS—one of the biggest physics organizations in the world.
Arsene Tema Biwole
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Editor: David Voss
Contributing Correspondent: Alaina G. Levine
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik