(Published - 8 August 2019)
The Next Einstein Forum is just what it sounds like - a platform for some of Africa’s most brilliant young scientists to share their work, and help develop a generation of scientific geniuses who can solve Africa’s (and the world’s) most pressing challenges. One of those brilliant young scientists is UWC’s Dr Fanelwa Ngece-Ajayi, whose work has earned her a place in the Next Einstein Forum’s 2019-2021 Fellows cohort.
“It’s such a great honour and pleasure being selected as a NEF Fellow,” Dr Ajayi says. “It helps me see my issues as an emerging scientist in South Africa are not isolated, but are felt all across this continent by those aimed at solving the real issues affecting real people - and at ensuring the continent’s future.”
The Next Einstein Forum is a platform that connects science, society and policy in Africa and the rest of the world – with the goal to leverage science for human development on a global scale.
Dr Ajayi is a senior lecturer in Physical Chemistry at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), and research leader at the University’s Enzyme Sensor Laboratory, SensorLab, where she works (among other things) on drug metabolism nanobiosensors for antiretrovirals and Tuberculosis treatment drugs using green method synthesised nanoparticles. She’s been elected to the South African Young Academy of Sciences (SAYAS), received UWC’s Academic Achievers Excellence Award, and been named one of South Africa’s Inspiring Fifty 2018, among others.
She’s also the founder and leader of the non-profit organisation, AmaQawe ngeMfundo, which aims to change the negative stereotypes about STEM at township schools, and helped establish KasiMaths, a scalable low cost mathematics HUB for learners in marginalized communities.
“Community engagement is essential in order for scientists to learn to communicate with the public at large so that their work can be understood better - and so that the youth can receive a proper foundation in science and exposure to the field,” she says. “With enough willpower any child can succeed, no matter their background or circumstances.”
Dr Ajayi is passionate about STEM education, and AmaQawe ngeMfundo aims to provide makeshift STEM labs, on-site experiments and interactive STEM workshops, and STEM fairs at schools in marginalised communities like Khayelitsha in Cape Town (where she comes from).
“Academia is important but so is the need for more academics to engage with the community at large, and to educate others about what they do,” she says. “We need to continuously encourage the youth about the importance of education and how that can be used to solve their immediate issues.”
The workshops have had a positive effect on hundreds of pupils, and helped influence them to eventually choose science as a future career. But there’s more to be done.
“The work at AmaQawe ngeMfundo is only possible because of the dedicated volunteers, donors, consultants and those who have served as mentors in her life that offer their time, money and expertise,” she says. “It really does take a village to raise a child.”
The NEF is working to make Africa a global hub for science and technology - and at the centre of their efforts is Africa’s young people, the driving force for Africa’s scientific renaissance.
“Good quality STEM education is needed in Africa, particularly in preparation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” she notes. “I look forward to this new chapter of my life with enthusiasm and joy at the thought of joining a new network of African leaders whose work is aimed at solving Africa’s issues and challenges through their excellent research work.”