Physics in Africa March Meeting Session

American Physical Society March 2009 Meeting
Report on the Forum for International Physics sponsored
Physics in Africa Session

Abebe Kebede1, Paul Gueye2 and Dave Ernst2

1North Carolina Agricultural and Technology, Physics Department, Greensboro, NC
2Members-at-large, Forum for International Physics, American Physical Society, College Park, MD

On March 16, 2009, the Forum for International Physics (FIP) co-sponsored a 3-hr long  “Physics in Africa” session held during the 2009 American Physical Society (APS) March meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A. Kebede from NCA&T chaired the session. Four physicists from Africa were invited to this session that was attended by about 30 participants to provide an overview of the past, current and future of research and education in physics throughout this continent for both academic and policy-making aspects: Alex Animalu (physicist, Nigeria), Mzamo Mangaliso (past President National Research Foundation, South Africa), Arame Boye-Faye (head of the Research Division of the Ministry for Scientific Research and professor at the University Cheih Anta Diop of Dakar, Senegal) and Bernard M'Passi-Mabiala (Chair of the Physics Depamrtnet of the University Marien NGouabi of Brazzaville, Congo). The session was followed by a panel discussion.

Prof. Animalu provided a broad in-depth presentation of how physicists within Africa could contribute to worldwide forefront research. He presented his research work “On the differences between theories of conventional and high temperature superconductivity” in which he enlightened the theoretical work performed in collaboration with some colleagues, and how this contributed in the advancement in the field of superconductivity. Dr. Boye-Faye followed with her presentation on “Physics in Africa: the Case of Senegal”, in which she addressed the problems related to the student population (outpacing the university capacity by about 10 fold), the lack of equipment, and the very small direct contribution from the Government (less than 0.3% of GDP) to research. Prof. M'Passi-Mabiala addressed the audience with a review of the physics department (education, research and statistics) at his university and some ongoing inter-African collaboration to establish a consortium to leverage the expertise of faculty in neighboring countries for a more efficient educational implementation and advancement. The overall message from these talks was striking in their common content and centered around the following:

  • The lack of sufficient funds and Government support for a proper environment to conduct adequate education and research;
  • The lack of equipment and research facilities to conduct forefront research on and off campus, as well as reaching out to pre-college students;
  • The need for more vehicles to connect physicists within and outside the continent to establish a critical mass for addressing physics issues;
  • The need to have a pool of highly trained (theoretical) physicists with minimal but strong ongoing research to maintain a presence at the international level; and
  • The fact that the most of the research is being done through personal relationship with foreign institutions.

Four speakers introduced the panel discussion that followed:

  • Richard Martin from the University of Illinois who provided a status of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), a project initiated and launched by Niel Turock (head of the Perimeter Institute in Canada). This is a 10-month long school that is based in South Africa and brings students from across the continent to obtain quality training in various applied mathematics fields.
  • Dave Ernst from Vanderbilt University who provided a review/status of a South Africa-Vanderbilt program in astronomy.
  • Herman Winnick from SLAC/MIT who lead the establishment of the SESAME facility in the Middle East and stressed the importance of establishing a synchrotron radiation facility in Africa
  • Amy Flatten (head of the International Affairs at APS) who informed the audience of new programs within APS to help African physicists: free APS membership, free online journal access ... (more can be found at

Abede Kebede led the panel discussion and engaged the audience on various topics relevant for Africa, especially on the need for a single African Physical Society that will link up communities and research groups within Africa as well as outside Africa: internet access, conferences, funding, comparison between non-US international agencies/institutions (ICTP, Sweden …) work, astrophotography … There was a general agreement in the fact that more can be done by the US physics community to establish stronger ties with African physicists and develop more efficient/higher impact projects to advance physics. The session concluded with informal discussions on how such effort could be developed. Additional information on some relevant activities can be found at: It is noteworthy to mention that: copies of the first publication of the African Journal of Physics were provided (lead mostly by African physicists residing and practicing physics in the US) and the Ethiopian Physical Society-North America was introduced during the APS-FIP reception (to facilitate research and education in their own country.

Views and opinions expressed in articles are those of the authors and are not necessarily shared by the editor or the APS/FIP. We reserve the right to withhold names of authors in order to reduce the risk of additional personal hardship, for instance for speaking out on human rights issues.