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West African researchers win TWAS awards

Two West Africans have been rewarded for their dedication to research by The World Academy of Sciences. They are the only Africans among more than a dozen prize-winners announced last week.

Marian Nkansah from Ghana and Mahouton Norbert Hounkonnou from Benin received their accolades on 14 November at the TWAS annual meeting in Kigali, Rwanda.

Nkansah, a chemist at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, is the first-ever winner of the US$4,000 Fayzah M. Al-Kharafi Prize that recognises women scientists from countries lagging in science and technology.

She was picked for her research on the health risks of exposure to heavy metals in Ghana. Among other matters, her research showed that pregnant women in the country’s Volta Region should cease the tradition of eating clay to stave off morning sickness as it contains harmful levels of arsenic and lead.

Hounkonnou from the University of Abomey-Calavi received the US$5,000 C. N. R. Rao Prize for senior scientists for his efforts in mathematics research and education. He said the award would spur him on and encourage young scientists to pursue excellence.

"It is an important recognition of more than 20 years of research activity. It serves to consolidate my scientific authority. It is also a stimulus to continue to pursue excellence in science," he said.

Zhao Dongyuan from Fudan University in Shanghai, China, won the US$100,000 TWAS-Lenovo prize for his work on mesoporous metals and their application in water purification.

Bijay Singh, a Nepali chemist from the Research Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology in Kathmandu, won the US$5,000 Atta-ur-Rahman Prize for his work on biomaterials.

Researchers from Chile, India, Pakistan and Turkey were among the other winners of subject-specific TWAS prizes, valued at US$15,000 each. None went to Africans.

Speaking at the meeting, Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame urged African countries to invest more in science and technology: “Investment in research and development in Africa, and other developing areas, is still too low.”

He said the benefits of such investments would be financial, technological and social: “The scientific mindset makes us better people. In both conception and utilisation, scientific work is blind to divisions or prejudices that only hinder further progress for everybody.”