Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Science meets fun at ASP 2014 in Dakar

By Geoffrey Okeng'o

Prof John Ellis and Geoffrey Okeng'o at ASP 2014 in Dakar, Senegal

Over the world over, scientists are known to be a rather 'queer' breed. They come in all flavors- from the quiet and reserved type to ever charming and outgoing crop able to sustain a `live' audience even in a three hour after-lunch technical presentation.They (scientists)- well most of the time- never always disappoint and the second week of the ASP Senegal was no exception!

The week began on a rather laid back note, being a kind of anti-climax to the electrifying first week with theoretical lectures by Bobby-Christoph-Mathieu-John Ellis et. al. And as if not to disappoint, the monday morning lecturers; Dr Goerlach Ulrich and Dr Campanelli Mario, set the pace for what turned out to be an academically enriching and interesting week. Of course its hard not to give a thumps up to Dr Ketevi Assamagan for his animated “introduction to statistical analysis” lecture that kept everybody awake and alive on a hot monday afternoon, attracting many questions from the students.

Then came the most interesting day of the second week of the school. It was on saturday 16th 2014- the forum and outreach day held at the UCAD auditorium and graced by an evening dinner courtesy of the ministry of education. Early in the day after breakfast and before beginning of the forum and outreach day, I had the pleasure to go through the poster section in order to sample on what the over 60 bright young people attending ASP 2014 had to offer about their research. To say that I was quite impressed is an understatement. From the showcase of high calibre research spanning modern research disciplines such as material science, medical physics and nanotechnology, to highly complex topics in applied quantum mechanics, applied mathematics, cosmology and particle physics; this year's students indeed relayed one strong message- that Africa is home to very bright and talented young minds! Given opportunity, these young brains posses exactly what Africa needs to grow her scientific niche moving forward. Thanks to programs such as the ASP!

The outreach and forum day began in ernest with opening remarks from Prof Oumar Ka, the chair of the local steering committee and convener of this year's school, followed by representatives from the international ASP 2014 steering committee Dr Darve Christine and Ketevi Assamagan. Then followed presentations from Dr Toure Hamadoun on ICT developments in Africa, Eric Guedegbe on digital libraries as collaborative platform, Dr Julia Gray on data acquisition and grid computing in Africa, Dr Landua Rolf on the CERN model and outreach and an outstanding presentation from Dr Herman White on the road map for discoveries for Africa. Finally, it was time for a round-table with questions and discussion followed by the much awaited event for the day- the DINNER.

So, with everybody on board the UCAD bus and an excellent Youssou having checked that nobody was left behind, it was time for the wheels to roll. It took what looked like a 30-40 mins ride to arrive at the dinner hotel after which the fun began! In their characteristic manner, the students had a frenzy with cameras flashing non-stop, people shifting from one position to the other getting one shot or another. Lecturers 'accepting' to take many (many) photos and everybody feeling at ease.

The atmosphere outside the hotel was very refreshing and the direct view of the beach from hotel extremely spectacular. The students and lecturers interacted with much ease with giggles, laughter, hugs, photos and a walk here or there consuming the over an hour duration before the dinner began. The food was excellent and despite wine missing from the menu (some wished for it!), the coca cola, fanta, and sprite soft drinks were in generous abundance. Then there was the soft background music that gradually grew louder (well, that's the truth because nobody I know was on anything). Then true to the saying that hard work without play makes jack a dull boy, time came for the big jig. Hips were shaken, legs tossed, fingers pressed, heads twisted and yes, it was all fun! If you still doubt that scientists also have fun, please stay tuned for the explosive video!!

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