Just over a year and a few months ago I moved to a small town in the northern provinces of Mozambique to support my wife in her work in community development and water and sanitation. I went with a willingness to help out where I could, but with no real background in development, what was there to do for a research scientist in rural Africa?
You can say all you like about lions or elephants being the coolest animals in Africa. They are awesome for sure but they’re not quite the top. I suggest that that title goes to the chameleon and the zebra.
Why? They are just so unique: one changes colour as much as a fashion model, and the other has a coat pattern unlike any other mammal. And thanks to two papers released this year, we’ve begun to understand a bit more about their unique skin.
Two papers caught my eye recently that have taken advantage of the proliferation of whole genome sequencing techniques in recent years. With prices of sequencing whole genomes coming down and down, biologists are having access to vast amounts of data. The 1000 Genomes Project was one of the first to collect the vast amounts of human genome data into a story that told of human population origins. The two papers that I saw recently extend this story. One provides data from nearly 1500 people throughout the entire world to trace the genetic legacies of Ghengis Khan and Alexander the Great. The other delves deeper into the dawn of homo sapiens in Africa, over 300 whole genomes and nearly 1500 genotypes – the African Genome Project.
It was with great pleasure that I ‘virtually’ attended the second Planet Earth Institute #ScienceAfrica Unconference on the 18th November. From following on Twitter it seemed like an excellent day with good discussions and presentations. Since last year’s Unconference I have moved to Mozambique. In 9 months I have seen extreme rural areas and big cities and experienced the lives of Mozambicans that live there. It is with this experience that I came to the second Unconference – with thoughts on some of the unique challenges that a campaign like #ScienceAfrica faces.
Continue reading “#ScienceAfrica Unconference 2014 – reaching the whole spectrum of society”
As I said in my last post, the Planet Earth Institute asked me to write a second piece after my write-up of the #ScienceAfrica UnConference. Because of my background in research, science communication and now science education (and because of the expertise of my wife, Joanne, in development; she works as a water and sanitation engineer for WaterAid), they asked me to write a bit more on the question with which I ended my conference write-up.
The question was:
how do you communicate that idea [the benefit of science] to the many many people who still live hand to mouth?
My piece was published today on the Planet Earth Institute website. I discussed the importance of primary and secondary education, of making science relevant and interesting to all ages, and of how a failure in teaching training will undermine any plans to improve science education at the school level. I know I’m not an expert on the issue so I have to thank Derek Fish of Unizul Science Centre and my wife for their input. I hope I at least started a conversation and I hope you enjoy it.
In case you wanted to find out a bit more about the Africa’s Scientific Independence conference, the Planet Earth Institute made a Prezi of points and pictures from the day (I’m even in one of the photos!). Catch it on the prezi website.
Watch this space for further articles on science/science communication/science education in the developing world. The Planet Earth Institute invited me to write a piece on these topics which will be posted on their website later this week.
Note (added in 2020) The Planet Earth Institute has closed due to allegations against the CEO and board members. I was only invited to write a blog for them in the early days. I stand by what I wrote, but obvious disown the corrupt actions of the leadership of which I (and I imagine many of the staff I communicated with by email or at the Unconferences) was not aware.
The 11th July saw Africa’s Scientific Independence, a day-long ‘Unconference’ run by the Planet Earth Institute, at the Hub Westminster. Chaired by Lord Boateng and featuring a number of senior scientists and policy makers in the UK and all over Africa, the event tried to get to grips with a rather large question of how we get to Scientific Independence in Africa.