Crystallography in Africa
Recent outreach activities of AfCA in Banjul (Gambia) and Boké (Guinea Conakry)
AfCA's milestones in the dissemination of crystallography in Africa
About 15 million people died in the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) (Adam, 2022). This pandemic threat has not only triggered an urgent public health declaration of international concern but has also put the global economy at risk. Science, of course, holds the key to countering this pandemic, but our inability to "see" the agent responsible is generating fear and, in some individuals, disbelief, while limiting the strategies that can be applied. Crystallography, of course, plays a unique role in helping to resolve this crisis as it can determine the structures of molecules at the atomic scale and sometimes at breathtaking speed. Recognizing the opportunity to communicate to the broader African scientific community the research opportunities offered by crystallography, as well as the value of crystallographic information, the African Crystallographic Association (AfCA) has begun organizing educational events on crystallography to promote this science on the continent. The objective of this initiative is to bring crystallography education and training to some African countries where this fundamental discipline is still lacking. During the last five months, two crystallographic seminars were organized in two different African countries, namely the Gambia and the Republic of Guinea.
First Seminar on Crystallography in the University of the Gambia (Banjul)
The first Seminar on Crystallography in the Gambia was organized in collaboration with the University of the Gambia-Science Students Association (UTG-SSA) on 1 June 2022 at the AUF digital Lab on the Brikama Campus. This first ever seminar on crystallography was intended to bring education and training of structural sciences to the participants, particularly those in Chemistry and Biology lacking ready access to crystallography courses at their institution. The impressions given at the end by the President of the UTG-SSA and the Information and Communication Ministry say it all ... .
The seminar was centered on the application of crystallography in the natural science courses, namely Chemistry, Biology, Physics and Mathematics. It was attended by 35 students from the various departments of the Division of Physical and Natural Sciences to listen and learn from the lecturers about this interesting discipline of science. Delia Haynes, the current president of AfCA, opened online the seminar with a brief presentation of the Association, and Marielle Agbahoungbata, one of the AfCA regional representatives, said a few words online regarding the advancement of the discipline in the region. Mamoudou Diallo, present on site, conducted the rest of the seminar. In the morning it was mostly about structural biology. Mamoudou gave a lecture entitled “The Role of Crystallography in the Fight against Covid-19”.
After the coffee break, another – much more pedagogical – lecture followed on the theoretical understanding of the geometry of crystals. During this second lecture, key concepts of crystallography like symmetry, crystal structure, unit cell and crystal systems were introduced to the participants. In the afternoon, a two-hour workshop on the use of the Mercury software for visualizing molecular crystal structures was held. The crystal structure of benzene was used as an example. Students were shown not only how the atoms in benzene are arranged in patterns with six carbon atoms at the vertices of a regular hexagon and one hydrogen atom attached to each carbon atom but also the packing of this molecule was discussed and the structure–properties of this compound were studied. Through this workshop, they were able to see how the use of molecular visualization tools like Mercury to inspect X-ray crystal structures is essential towards understanding the properties and the applications of materials.
Also from a pedagogical standpoint, Mamoudou gave examples of how crystallography can be used to find protein structures and drugs. The students were then able to relate the information acquired to topics they studied in some biology courses. It was a total of 6 hours of crystallography lectures. A day of really hard work for both the students and the tutors but it was worth it!
It is hoped that more seminars like this will be organized. Students and young academics interested in crystallography will then have the opportunity to participate in these great scientific exchanges, which will promote the growth of the community working around crystallography.
Reaction of some participants from the first Seminar on crystallography in the Gambia
Words of the President of the UTG-SSA:
“Every society around the globe encounters problems such as increasing local and global pandemics. With application of science and technology and applying the knowledge of crystallography we will go a long way to improve the treatment of challenging and reoccurring diseases. The science students of the UTG, especially those in the natural sciences had no experience and exposure in the era of the science of crystallography. Therefore, the UTG-SSA under the leadership of President Ousman A.M Touray deemed it necessary to organize such interactive and educative seminar that may act as a catalyst to inspire young scientists of the Gambia. Such inspiration will enable the students and young academics to take up the mantle through research to figure out societal problems as a tool to providing solutions to those problems. The 17th executive council of the UTG-SSA is looking forward to welcome again Dr. Mamoudou Diallo and the entire members of the African Crystallographic Association for a visit to the University of the Gambia. The association will also want to seize this opportunity to commend Dr. Mamoudou Diallo for his invaluable contributions for the success of this event”.
Words of the Information and Communication Ministry (UTG-SSA):
"Thanksgiving Message to the Participants. When knowledge becomes a raw material wisdom serves as the only ingredient to make the composition a real substance with unquenchable sweetness. The 17th Executive Council of the UTG-SSA is pretty jubilant to express appreciation to all the participants including all the lecturers for using their precious time to witness one of the biggest and most educating seminars ever. It was a seminar characterized with new scientific vocabularies and ideas that aroused the attention of the students with unquantifiable enthusiasm. While knowledge is like a baobab tree and which no man can ever claim ownership, the 17th executive council wishes to acknowledge that the knowledge learned today was one of its kind and will surely conduct similar activity on different areas in the world of academics. The participants indeed gained knowledge at free cost, while the welfare ministry didn’t rest on their oars, serving participants with food to boost their interest in the seminar and enable them to focus more. Indeed, it was a great magnum opus".
AfCA seminar at the Institut Supérieur des Mines et de la Géologie in Boké (Guinea Conakry)
As for the second seminar in the Republic of Guinea, it was held at the Institut Supérieur des Mines et Géologie de Boké on 9 August 2022. This Higher Institute of Mining and Geology is one of the Guinean higher education institutions located in the region of Boké in the northwest of Guinea. Created in 1962 as the Faculty of Geo-Mining within the Polytechnic Institute of Conakry, it was established as an Institute in 1991, with the main mission of training students in the various professions of geosciences and the environment. On this occasion, AfCA was invited by the General Director of the Institute to organize the seminar on crystallography. The AfCA Vice President Patrice Kenfack Tsobnang, participating online, opened the seminar with an introduction to AfCA's vision, objectives and actions. He then turned the floor over to Mamoudou Diallo for a thorough presentation. Unlike the seminar in The Gambia, in Guinea the participants (especially the master students and the teaching staff of the institute) had experience in geometric crystallography. The seminar was therefore much more engaging in terms of exchanges, discussions and question-and-answer sessions. This question-and-answer session lasted about an hour before the coffee break.
After the break, the discussion focused on some of the academic issues they are facing, especially the revitalization of crystallography teaching at the institute, which is almost at a standstill. This is because most of the experts are now retired and there are no new teachers in this field. In addition, they expressed the need to equip their institute with a new powder diffractometer to facilitate their research and teaching activities. The ambition expressed by the participants at the end of the seminar was that they are ready to join forces with other national institution members to create the Guinean Crystallographic Association, which will allow them – with the acquisition of the new equipment – to make the institute a pole of development of crystallography in the sub region.
Copyright © - All Rights Reserved - International Union of Crystallography