In the last few months, two crystallographic seminars were organized by the African Crystallographic Association, in The Gambia and the Republic of Guinea.
About 15 million people died in the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to figures from the World Health Organization. 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.
1st Seminar on Crystallography in University of Gambia
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 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”.
2nd seminar at Institut Supérieur des Mines et de la Géologie in Guinea
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.
Revitalization of crystallography teaching
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.
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