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Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology

Organising committee for Africans in STEM symposium

The first Africans in STEM symposium held on 28 June 2019 in our department was aimed at celebrating African voices and ideas in STEM. The objectives of Africans in STEM are to create an avenue for Africans across all STEM fields to connect, share ideas, collaborate and network.

The event was put together by an organising committee of four University of Cambridge African STEM researchers including Dr Prince Bawuah, Research Associate in our Terahertz Applications Group, whose work focuses on the development of a rapid and non-destructive terahertz-based test instrument for predicting performance of pharmaceutical tablets.

The symposium had presentations extending from laboratory research findings and STEM-based businesses to science communication. It also featured a panel on ‘STEM & development in Africa’ that sought to assess the status quo of STEM in Africa and the current gaps hindering STEM from making an impactful and positive change across the continent. Health, infrastructure, IT, water sanitation and energy are all areas anchored in STEM, meaning they undeniably play major roles in continental development. However, despite the continent acknowledging the impact STEM has on the growth of industries and economies, there still exists a lack of noteworthy impact. The role of STEM in Africa is currently underwhelming. In 1980, several African leaders across many countries pledged to contribute 1% of their GDP towards research and development. In 2007, they had to renew that pledge because no country had met it. Fast forward to 2019, only 3 countries have met that 1% pledge and the rest contribute between 0-0.5%.

The panel also highlighted the importance of the penetration of STEM researchers into leadership and development roles in policy-making and business. The reason STEM may not be making an impact on the continent is the lack of a bridge that connects researchers and policy/business. To circumvent this, some key changes required for positive impact were discussed, such as: individuals/researchers in STEM to take up roles of leadership especially in policymaking, increased engagement between STEM researchers with private businesses to avoid full reliance on governmental bodies, calls for governments to make more serious investment in STEM, and proper and concise communication of ideas and projects by scientists to individuals in leadership roles e.g. government or business people.

"This event is the first of future symposiums with the next one already under planning for 2020" said Dr Bawuah. "The current organising team hopes that this symposium becomes a forum for STEM African researchers in the UK and beyond to meet and pave ways of tangible solutions that can benefit the continent."

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