Nigerian lady scientist rules the world ... Emerges winner in global chemistry competition By COSMAS OMEGOH

Not too long ago in China, an avalanche of honours fell on Nigeria's path. It happened when one of her unsung heroines surprised the world by claiming a coveted prize at a recent edition of the ChinaNano Science Conference.

Her work in the field of Nano science and technology - an aspect of chemistry – won the best prize, outclassing over 1,000 other entries.

In the eyes of world's best scientists, Nigeria's profile rose sky-high like mercury in a test tube. British-born Nigerian, Dr (Miss) Geraldine Echue helped this to happen when she gave the country the rare opportunity. It was something to be proud about when her presentation at the Chinese Academy of Sciences was adjudged the best in its category.

After some painstaking consideration, a panel of judges at the conference gave the verdict that placed Dr Echue in the league of world's rising chemists. She felt like exploding when it was announced that her work had significantly contributed to learning and extended the frontiers of Material Science. She gave experts from various lands and climes a handful and a conviction that Nigeria is never short of the power to surprise.

For her effort, she was rewarded with the conference's top prize, some traditional Chinese Art paper, and a certificate of participation amid ovation. The ovation came down on her like sheets of rain - unrestrainedly flowing from thousands of thankful hearts

Dr Echue, 27, was born and raised in England by her parents who hail from Okwelle, in Onuimo Local Government area of Imo State. She recently earned a PhD in Material Chemistry from University of Bristol, England, specialising in Nano science and technology. She attended the same University of Bristol, for her undergraduate and graduate studies, where she read Chemistry. She worked for Quartz Scientific and Analytical Laboratory in Watford, UK and also spent a year working for BP Chemicals at their research centre in Hull, North East of England.

When she heard about the ChinaNano Conference, she flew to China at the invitation of a Chinese professor. She went to the Asian continent to partake in the fifth edition of the biannual conference, a scientific meeting which held at the China National Convention Centre in Beijing. The conference attracts the best chemists with specialisation in Material science and Nano science.

But it never occurred to her that she could get more than she hoped for. What was on her mind, according to her, was to offer her best and see what could come out of it. She never knew that she was on a trip that would change the face of her career, and leave the world wondering at the huge potentials that can come out of Nigeria. Now, she says each time she reflects on her success, she cannot but marvel at her luck.

Going into the conference, which had virtually no black in attendance, Dr Echue overcame every stereotype to claim success.

She recalled her happiness when scores of Chinese, Australians, Japanese, Americans, Germans and many other nationals came streaming to take photographs with her. She said her alma mater, University of Bristol, also joined in wide celebration by splashing the conference's photographs on its website to prove that it's a leading force in Europe.

Some days ago, Dr Echue, who is ever joyous being a Nigerian, breezed into the country to see members of her extended family and as she put it, to motivate her younger relations. In an engaging encounter, she revealed her burning desire to contribute to the success of her relations and to national development.

"I'm here to motivate my younger relations and to let them know that if I can accomplish what I have accomplished today, they too can."

Flashing toothy smiles, Dr Echue who was happy to be home, took time to mingle and tell her story. "The China event is a scientific conference called ChinaNano Conference. It attracts the experts in Nano science and technology, a branch of material chemistry. They gather to present their works, discuss ideas and come up with innovations. It was like a forum for collaboration for scientists from all over the world. You can be invited or you can sign up to present your scientific works since amazing works of science are presented there.

"At the conference, there were experts in Material Chemistry and Nano science. I went there because I'm still learning; I wanted to receive lectures. I wanted to hear from older, better experienced and much more progressive scientists speak. I wanted to present my work and see what they could make out of it.

It was amazing; it was great for me to hear them say, 'this is a great work.' It sounded like fantasy. And I said to myself, 'am I the one doing this thing?' I was only hoping to learn from the masters who came to the conference," she said.

Recalling how her journey to her China success all began, she informed that a certain Chinese professor invited her to come over and present her works. "Yes we collaborate on scientific matters. But often, I look out for opportunities that can come along - where I can present my works and learn from other scientists.

"The conference was attended by hundreds of scientists from China, Australia, UK, Japan, Germany, USA, Canada, South America and many more. It was a truly global conference. I can't remember seeing any blacks there.

I suppose I was the only black person in attendance. And when my work was adjudged to be the best in its category, very many came to me wondering where I come from. Of course I told them I'm a Nigerian; I told them I speak English with British accent because I was born in the UK and they screamed. Many who were present, particularly from China, kept coming with their families to request to take photographs with me and all that."

Also recalling how the work was received, she said: "I think my work really said more than anything I can say. My work said everything by itself. I didn't get any negative comments. More than anything, people were curious; they were not expecting to see someone like me there, and so they wanted to find out more about where I come from, what my background is among other things.

It was a great feeling when I was announced as winner of the top prize. I screamed, 'yeeeee!' I was very happy. I wasn't expecting a win; I wasn't thinking about anything. But I was so happy for the success."She explained that it was a conference in which people presented papers in various categories of material science.

She also recalled that there were various doctoral students, about 1,000 of them who presented their works in her category. At any given time, scores of other people, including about 20 judges listened to the presentations. There were many speakers too. After every presentation, there were was a question and answer session."

She told the reporter that her exploits in China had given her the confidence she is currently building upon. "I'm hoping to continue with what I have achieved. I will be trying to improve on my research.

I believe what I achieved in China will make an impact on what I'm doing at the moment in the UK. Going to China was amazing. Being at a place where you don't know anybody, and you don't know what to expect and you try your best, and people receive you well, is amazing."

She also gave insight into various applications of Nano Science and technology, saying: "I will continue to work in various applications of Nano Science - plastics, amour, military hardware, and other applications people do not know about. These are some of the functionalities of Nano science.

People don't understand that almost everything they use every day - materials for making refrigerators, tables, cars, television sets and many more domestic items, require design on Nano level. Material chemistry is required to produce everything everyone uses everyday. Indeed, Material chemistry overlaps with so many other disciplines."

Exhibiting a deep sense of patriotism, Dr Echue says being Nigerian and returning to Nigeria make her fell great. "Each time I come here, it makes me know how lucky I am. Being Nigerian makes me feel great. I feel I can help other people.

I have this feeling to do things for other people, especially my own people because they are important to me. I desire to use the skill I have to do positive things for the people. Each time, I have this thought of investing in Nigeria.

I have this feeling to try to bring something here and help the people. It is of no good having all the knowledge and skill without using it to help," she asserted.

Source: The Sun

Publish Date: 

Saturday, 24 August 2013