Tikum Mbah Azonga reports on a science symposium held at the University of Buea recently.
Organized by the Faculty of Science of the University and under the patronage of its Vice Chancellor, Prof. Vincent P.K. Titanji, the mini-symposium, "Inter-science 2010", was the maiden edition in a series dubbed "Inter-science". It was held under the theme: “Science at the Interface between disciplines” and ran the whole of Friday the 12th of March 2010. The Vice Chancellor was accompanied by the DVC/TIC, Dr. Nalova Lyonga and the Registrar, Chief Prof. Samson Abangma.
The common denominator
According to the Dean of the Faculty of Science, Prof. Theresa Nkuo-Akenji, the event was one in a series named “Interscience 2010” and was aimed at highlighting “the emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration that characterizes much of the research activity within the Faculty.” As such, it was aimed at providing researchers both young and old with a golden opportunity of presenting their work in an interdisciplinary medium. This was because as the Dean put it, the idea of interdisciplinary studies and research is no longer an option but and obligation. Through it the Faculty equally intended to point out to both students and staff the artificial boundaries that exist between disciplines, and even go further to promote collaboration among colleagues and the various disciplines.
Language as a variable in science: homogeneity or heterogeneity?
Participating in this symposium of science people was a very sobering experience for me, personally. Never before in the last twenty years had I found myself in the same room and at the same time with so many scientists. During the dinner, I sat at a table of ten where eight of those present held doctorate degrees in the sciences. These were quite a blend of science subjects because the Faculty of Science of the university comprises the following subject areas: physics, chemistry, geology and environmental studies, bio-chemistry and microbiology, plant and animal sciences, computer sciences and mathematics. So I watched them to see in what language they would communicate. Would it be quantum mechanics? Would it be differential calculus? Would it be Einstein’s theory of relativity? Or would it be the law of flotation? Or stalactites and stalagmites? Or the law of gravitational forces? Or the path followed by geometric progression? Or even the language of photosynthesis? Perhaps it would be quadratic equations, or motion in electro-magneto-hydrodynamics or the chemistry of esters, or the chemistry of carbons or the measurement of the index of refraction.
Covalent bonding or ionic bonding?
I wondered how these scientists must have felt at the thought of finding so many of them in the same place at the same time. It was a question of like poles attracting each other, even if science can prove otherwise. Yet that was not all there was to it because among them, I could find some of the most respected researchers in the whole of Africa, if not the world. Let us take two examples. Prof Vincent P.K Titanji has made his mark internationally in the area of biotechnology research. Although he is today Vice Chancellor of the University of Buea, he is still actively involved in research and when he has the least opportunity, he casts away his coat and tie, dons his white science overcoat and assumes his place in the laboratory.
His research work in the Biotechnology Unit of the University is well known. Some of his achievements so far include the development of a MAB based test for bovine onchocerciasis, a piece of job which he did with Cho-Ngwa and Gronvik. He has also developed a hybrid recombinant antigen for sero-diagnosis of onchocerciasis. His current research includes drug target identification and validation using reverse genetics. Among his competencies are immuno-chemistry, bioinformatics, protein and nucleic acid separation as well as monoclonal antibody technology.
Prof. Theresa Akenji-Nkuo is another gem of international repute. As Dean of the Faculty of Science, she has the duty of directing, supervising and motivating a college of very brilliant scientific minds, many of them not just males but senior males. Although she may really not be referred to as `The Iron Lady`, she nevertheless bears some resemblances to Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who was often referred to in those words. Like her, Prof. Akenji-Nkuo is a woman who has risen within the ranks and against all odds, in a male-dominated world to place herself in the position of leadership where she is today.
Prof. Akenji-Nkuo commands respect, she is listened to and is admired by her superiors, her colleagues, her collaborators and her students. Perhaps where Mrs Thatcher beats her is on the point that she is a mother of twins – one boy and one girl. But then again, time is on Prof. Akenji-Nkuo`s side, which means she can still have her own set (or sets) of twins if and when she likes. After all, she is in a domain of science in which twins can not only be predicted but actually “made to happen”. But then, she also beats Mrs Thatcher because whereas the Former British Prime Minister earned a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, Prof. Akenji-Nkuo does not only match Thatcher with her own BSc in Medical Technology, but she has actually gone on and obtained an MSc in Microbiology and to boot, a PhD in parasitology. Even so, she is still actively involved in research. She has numerous publications to her credit. Among her publications are `Prevalence of Falciparum Malaria Together with Acute Diarrhoea`, `Environmental factors affecting Malaria parasite prevalence in Rural Bolifamba in Cameroon`, and `High Prevalence of HIV and Malaria co-infection in Urban Douala`.
Speed and velocity
The symposium was well attended, with practically every member of the Science Faculty and postgraduate students present with each person performing the duty assigned to them with mathematical precision. They could be easily spotted in the green T-shirts that have become the hallmark of the Faculty, junior and senior, dashing here and there to do one thing or another. It could be said that the organizers and participants hit the ground running because from the very beginning it was work non-stop. And that momentum was sustained to the very end. This is hardly surprising since the Dean of the Faculty had earlier set the tone and tempo in her welcome which she reinforced in her keynote speech. But between the Dean’s word of welcome and the keynote speech, the Vice Chancellor who is himself an accomplished scientist had extolled the virtues of science and its indispensable place in society, especially the aspect of interrelatedness. He talked about the “citizen intellectual” who is a new breed of professional capable of relating across boundaries and therefore making full use of the facilities made possible by scientific evolution and revolution.
Prof. Joyce Endeley who is a Professor of Agricultural Extension and Gender Studies as well as Head of the Department of Women and Gender Studies, Director of Academic Affairs at the University of Buea, spoke on the topic of “Gender – A Must Social Unit of Analysis in Research for Development”. Another contribution to the speeches was that of Dr. G. Ngwa who handled the topic: “Some Models of the Physical World and Unifying Principles for Science at the Interface”.
The Scientific language of posters
The viewing of posters depicting significant scientific achievements or challenges to science or even simply just addressing the problem of interrelationship between disciplines was an activity that attracted considerable attention. This is hardly surprising because the posters were all very captivating. They showed rare flashes of excellence and erudition on the part of the authors. They were displayed in front of Amphi 750 where the event took place. Poster titles and authors were as follows: ‘Assessing vulnerability and Adaptation of mangroves and associated ecosystems to climate change impact’ designed by Chuyong G., Fonge B., Tening A., and Egbe A. ‘Biochemical Validation and Cameroonian Medicinal Plant, Pittosporum manni (Pittosporacae)’ was designed by Nyongbela K, Fakoredeb F, Bickle Q, and Efange SMN. ‘The Interdisciplinary Nature of Climate Change’ was the topic handled by Munji C and Ayonghe S.
By the same token, Cho-Ngwa F, Samje M, Ngemenya M, Abongwa M, Didier NA, Ekwain EF, Nyongbela K, Njimoh D, Efange SMN and VPK Titanji produced the poster entitled ‘Potential Macro and Microfilaricidal compounds/extracts for treatment of onchocerciasis’. A poster on the environment entitled, ‘Spatial display of data for natural resources management and disaster prevention: case of Mount Cameroon Region’ was also featured. It was designed by the group comprising Che VB, Wantim MN, Kervyn M, Tening AS, Fonge BA, Trefois P, Mih AM, Nkwatoh A, Ernst GGJ, Ayonghe S, Egbe AE, Del Marmol MA, Ntasin E, Njome MS, Chuyong GB, Van Ranst E, Jacobs P. and Suh CE. Moral support came from two sister faculties of the university. These included the Faculty of Arts, with a poster on ‘Linguistics and other disciplines’ designed by Neba AN. According to Neba, linguistics is a multidisciplinary domain which provides fertile ground for collaboration in research. Some of the areas he mentioned are acoustic linguistics which has a link to physics, articulatory linguistics which is related to biology, as well as auditory linguistics which is related to physics and biology. Yenshu VE who represented the Faculty of Social and Management Sciences exhibited a poster entitled ‘Sociology and the Sciences’. According to his diagram, sociology is centre-stage to the pure sciences, the technical and applied sciences, social development or the politics of civilization, the other social sciences as well as the arts.
Boost for research methodology
Prof Simon Efange who is coordinator of Postgraduate Courses in the Faculty of Science gave a rousing demonstrative talk on the topic “Design and supervision of Research projects for Postgraduate students”. It was a distinctively lively presentation which he spiced with pinches of humour from time to time, thus drawing not just the attention of the audience but also its enjoyment. Basically, Prof. Efange guided his audience through the pitfalls associated with research, especially at the postgraduate level. Aspects he touched on included statement of the problem, stating the research question and laying down the hypothesis, collecting data, doing the literature review, analyzing data and discussing results and making recommendations.
Next came a number of presentations by the various departments of the Faculty. These were delivered in three sessions, the first of which was moderated by Prof. Francis Mbuntum, the second by Prof. Gabriel Folefoc and the third by Prof. Kenneth Ndamukong.
Of Algebraic equations, vectors and axis wind turbines
Session I was packaged under the theme: “Mathematics, its applications and information technology” and featured a delivery on the use of computers in research by Nkwenteyim DL, followed by another on analysis and design of a wind charger-type brake for horizontal axis wind turbines by Afungchui D and Ntoko MN. A mathematical model of the population dynamics of disease transmitting vectors with spatial considerations was presented by Nourridine S, based on a piece of work done with the collaboration of Teboh-Ewungkem MI and Ngwa GA. Neba AN from the Faculty of Arts, talked about the relationship between linguistics and other disciplines.
Of carbonate resources, molecular systematics and Irvingia
Session II comprised two themes: ‘Phyto-Medicinal and Natural Resources’ on the one hand and ‘Crop Protection’ on the other hand. Under the first theme, Nyongbela KD made a presentation on the topic “Comparative Phytochemical and biological study of the genus Sceleria (Cyperacease)”. This was group work with the other members being Ndjoko KI, Hoye TR, Nelson D, Brun R, Wittlin S, McAkam T, Mbah JA, Makolo FL, Wirmum C, Efange SMN and Hostettmann. Agyingi CM presented a paper on the topic of ‘Carbon resources of Cameroon: Their potentials as raw materials for the cement industry and other applications’. This presentation was on behalf of a group whose other members included Foba-Tendo J, Epanty AF, Suh CE, Zisuh FA, Ongbwa AZ and Kwankam FN.
Presentations on the sub-theme of crop protection kicked off with Dekoum AVM whose topic was ‘Molecular systematics of the genus Aframomun in Cameroon. The presentation was on behalf of colleagues among whom were Mbandi S, Chuyong GB and Cho-Ngwa F. The second presentation under that sub-theme was entitled: ‘evaluation of the collection, processing and marketing of Irvingia (bush mango)’ which is a major non timber forest product in the Ejagham Forest Reserve of the South West Region of Cameroon. The presentation was done by Nkwatoh AF on behalf of Labode P, Iyassa SM and Nkwatoh FW.
Of Clinical trials, genotype testing and antiretroviral mutations
Session three which was devoted to tropical and transmissible diseases began with a paper entitled ‘A comparative analysis of the quality of prescribing in relation to diagnosis between clinicians in Fako health facilities’, presented by Ndeso A of the Faculty of Health Sciences. The work was done collectively with the collaboration of colleagues such as Ofor D and Wupapa F. After that presentation Samje M. took to the rostrum to talk on ‘Potential macro and micro filaricidal compounds for the treatment of onchocerciasis.’ His team mates were Cho-Ngwa F, Ngemenya M, Abongwa M, Nde D, Ekwain E, Nyonbela K, Njimoh, D, Efange SMN and Titanji VPK. The topic of ‘genotype testing and antiretroviral mutational patterns of Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV-1) infections from two regions of Cameroon was handled by Meriki HD on behalf of Ongey JY, Nyindem BA, Achu Paul Ngu and Nkuo-Akenji T.
The Faculty on a pedestal
The next part of the programme was the launching of the Special Postgraduate Scholarships handled by Dr. Nalova Lyonga, Deputy Vice Dean in charge of Teaching, Professionalization and Development of Information and Communication Technologies (DVC/TIC). She hailed the developments that have taken place in the area of modern technology as well as the putting in place of the Bachelors/Masters/PhD programme, factors which she pointed out greatly favour interdisciplinary collaboration. The DVC/TIC explained that given the the new dispensation, there is now the necessity to be able to move and work across disciplines, rather than stay confined to just one domain.
She lauded the efforts of the Science Faculty in the conception and execution of the mini-symposium which she said bore the hallmarks of excellence and ought to be emulated by other faculties. Science, she said, has become very interdisciplinary and as a result, it has become “a humanistic discipline”, which was why the theme of the symposium, “Science at the interface between the disciplines”, could not have been better chosen. “Let’s look for the cutting edge areas of interdisciplinary collaboration. Let’s create knowledge and not just use it”, she urged. Amidst applause from the audience, she affirmed that she saw the teaching corps of the university as falling in two groups among which is that of are those who are more interested in teaching and the others who are more interested in research. According to Dr Nalova Lyonga, members of the teaching corps should be allowed to choose one or the other option. In that way they would work naturally freely and spontaneously.
Putting a premium on excellence
The DVC/TIC commended the Faculty of Science for being one that does not only spend money, but it also makes money. She was referring to the support given to the Faculty for outstanding students by two mining companies working here in Cameroon. The companies, Cam Iron and Camina were represented at the symposium by one of their Executive Officers, Alain Takougang. Donations included the sum of one million francs made available by Donatien Bonien who is CEO of Cam Iron, for a PhD student. He made the gesture in honour of his mother. The CEO of CAMINA, Mabu Francis donated the sum of 200 000 Frs. for MSc studies in honour of his mother. The packages were handed to the Vice Chancellor, Prof Vincent P.K. Titanji by the envoy of the two companies.
A cut above the rest
The Faculty rewarded participants for a job well done, which was another way of saying, ‘help us to help you”. Those who received awards included Meliki Henry Bilonga who received the best prize for oral presentation, Samje Moses who bagged the second prize and, Nyongbela Kennedy who picked up the third prize. Recognition for poster exhibition went to Dr. Chongwa, Dr. Ayongwa and Dr Fidelis Cho-Ngwa. Those recognized for oral presentations included Dr. Nkweteyin, Dr. Afungchwi, Dr. Nkwatoh and Dr. Chuyong. Participants from other faculties such as Dr. Yenshu (Social and Management Sciences), Dr. Ndeso Atanga (Health Sciences) and Dr. Neba (Arts) were also recognized and commended for being there and taking an active part.
Weights and measures
The Dean of the Faculty of Science, Prof.Theresa Nkuo-Akenji handed envelopes for Heads of Departments to use in holding seminars with the members of their departments. However, she warned that Heads of Department must make sure they hold the seminars because as she pointed out, the last times such support was given, some departments did not use the money for the intended purpose. The Heads of Department who received envelopes were as follows:
Physics – Dr. Daniel Nkemzi
Chemistry – Prof. Efange
Geology and Environmental Studies – Dr. Cheo Emmanuel Suh
Bio-Chemistry and Microbiology – Dr. Fidelis Cho-Ngwa
Plant and Animal Sciences – Dr. Kaleb Nebane
Computer Science – Dr. William Suh
Mathematics – Dr. Boniface Nkemzi
The parting of company
This was also the opportunity to bid farewell to some senior members of the department going on retirement. They were Dr. Fanso-Free (Chemistry), Dr. Kwalar (Mathematics) and His Royal Highness Dr. Akan who is the Fon of Kai Village in Momo Division. They were all present apart from Dr Kwalar who was unavoidably absent but was ably represented by his wife. Even so, Prof Mbuntum who is capable of keeping an audience listening for hours on end leaped at the opportunity to say a word (that turned out to be a very long one) about Dr. Kwalar whose relationship with him goes a long way back. It was therefore thanks to Prof, Mbuntum that we learned of Dr. Kwalar as a highly talented mathematician and a rigorous mathematics teacher. In his usual witty style, Prof Mbuntum recounted how when Dr Kwalar returned to Cameroon after his studies abroad, he was first of all recruited as a lecturer, after which he was again recruited as an Assistant lecturer, because as he put it, “impossible n`est pas camerounais.” When Prof Mbuntum sat, everyone wished he had continued for much longer.
Item 11 and the drawing of the curtains
Frankly, this part of the show was rich and inexhaustible, in terms of drinks and food. And as might be expected, hosts and guests readily availed themselves of the opportunity. After Item 11 was over, the decks were cleared for dancing. The floor was formally opened by the dignitaries present, after which three things followed: dance, dance and dance. At the end of the day, everyone went home exhausted, but also accomplished. After all, the scientific equation had been balanced.
The poetry of science
On reading this sub heading, you the scientist may wonder if there is any such thing as “the poetry of science”. Well, there is. Poetry is not a domain that belongs to only the arts or students of literature. All of us use poetry daily, perhaps without realizing it. And if we come to think of it, a scientist writing poetry does so from a very rich and fertile background for poetry. Scientists have been known to write novels, plays and poetry. Below are links to some scientific poems I have written.
1. A Geologist`s prayer < http://tikumazonga.blogspot.com/2010/03/geologists-prayer.html>
2. My mathematical set < http://tikumazonga.blogspot.com/2010/03/my-mathematical-set.html>
3. The biology of regeneration
4. Accelerated ions < http://tikumazonga.blogspot.com/2010/01/accelerated-ions.html>
5. Ignited reaction < http://tikumazonga.blogspot.com/2010/01/ignited-reaction.html>
Apart from science
Below are some other related events I have covered which you can access on this blog:
1. New book on labour law, By Dr. Yanou of the Department of Law
2. HIV AIDS conference at University of Buea
3. French anthropologist honours University of Buea
I welcome comments on either the poems or the present account of the Faculty of Science symposium.
Tikum Mbah Azonga
Department of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of Buea
P.O. Box 63 Buea
Republic of Cameroon
TEL (237) 7949 1064
BLOG ADDRESS: http://tikumazonga.blogspot.com