A Nigerian female scientist has bagged a prize of $100,000, as one of the winners of the 2013 L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards in Physical Sciences.
Professor Francisca Okeke, the first female Head of Department, University of Nigeria Nsukka bagged the 2013 Laureate award for her significant contributions “to the understanding of daily variations of the ion currents in the upper atmosphere which may further our understanding of climate change.”
UNESCO says Professor Okeke has made the study of the ionosphere her lifetime work. The ionosphere lies between 50km and 1000kms above the earth surface.
“A very thick layer of charged particles, the ionosphere produces changes in the magnetic field on earth’s surface that affect the planet in a host of ways. Her research could lead to a better understanding of climate change and help pinpoint sources of dramatic phenomena like tsunamis and earthquakes”, a summary of her research published by UNESCO read.
The awards were announced last year October, but the award ceremony took place at the weekend in Paris. She was the only recipient in that category from Africa and the Arab nations and the third Nigerian Laureate since the UNESCO-L’Oreal partnership was established in 1998. Professor Okeke got a prize of $100,000. Four others also got awards in the Laureate category with each representing Europe, Latin America, North America and the Asia Pacific regions. UK Scientist Professor Pratibha Gai of York University won the 2013 European Laureate award. She was recognised for “ingeniously modifying her electron microscope so that she was able to observe chemical reactions occurring at surface atoms of catalysts which will help scientists in their development of new medicines or new energy sources.
The second Nigerian award recipient, Dr Eucharia Nwaichi, an environmental bio-chemist from the University of Port Harcourt joined 15 other young scientists in the “International Fellows’’ category. Okeke told the Western Europe Correspondent of NAN that she would continue to encourage women to participate in the development of science and technology in the country. She noted that cultural challenges were impeding on women’s participation in global innovations, stressing that “even though it is seen as a male dominated field, people like us inspire others’’.
Similarly, Nwaichi, who was recognised for her research on “scientific solution to environmental pollution’’, stressed the need for increased motivation to support women in the field. Amb Mariam Katagum, Nigeria’s Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, said candidates who met the criteria were selected by a jury based on their submitted projects. “Two important elements are respecting the deadline and also making their submission through the Nigerian National Commission for UNESCO, because that gives it authenticity.
“For us as delegates, as soon as we knew we had possible candidates from Nigeria, we ensured that due process was followed. “There is no interference as you can see, an international jury determined the outcome,’’ she said, adding that the recipients had broken the frontiers in the field of science. According to her, they have become role models for girls, for us as a country, we need to encourage more girls to go into science.
“We can only do that by providing the environment, access to quality education and making sure that the facilities that will make them interested in science subjects are in place,’’ she stressed. The international jury which selected the 2013 awardees was led by Nobel Prize winner, Mr Ahmed Zewail.