Several of Africa's top women scientists have been honored at ceremonies to mark the founding of a new Pan African University.
The Kwame Nkrumah Science Awards for 2011 went to seven women for outstanding achievements and valuable scientific discoveries. The annual prize carries with it a $20,000 check and a silver medal.
Etheresia Pretorius of South Africa won for electron microscopy research into inflammations within the human body. She calls microscopy an open field because it's an older technique, often overlooked by scientists looking for something more exciting to investigate.
"I try to use the techniques of microscopy to find something new, something that might be used as a screening tool, a cheap screening tool used to detect disease long before it's visible in the human," Pretorius said.
Pretorius tells VOA she plans to use a large part of her prize money to give orphan girls in her home town a chance to explore possible careers in science. “We've got a lot of orphan girls, and there's an orphanage not very far from my hometown, Pretoria, and I thought myself and my husband would like to contribute to a girl, [a] woman, to come up and study something, some way,” she said.
Other winners include Rose Gana Fomban Leke of Cameroon for her groundbreaking research on prevention of malaria and other parasitic infections, and Ebtehal El-Demerdash of Egypt, for research on modern drugs used in treating forms of cancer most resistant to chemotherapy.
Dosso Mireille Carmen of Ivory Coast was chosen for studies on epidemiological surveillance of infectious diseases. Kakou Yao Rita, also of Ivory Coast, won for her contributions to the understanding of infrared spectroscopy and crystallography.
Maureen Coetzee of South Africa, a world renowned entomologist, was recognized for malaria research, including insecticide resistance and novel ways of controlling the disease. Nermin El Semary of Egypt was named for her investigations into the biotechnological aspects of microalgae.
The prizes were awarded at a ceremony establishing a new Pan African University, which will have five campuses, each specializing in a specific field of science.
A college dedicated to space science will be in South Africa, a college of water and energy sciences will be located in Algeria, and an institution for the study of basic sciences, technology and innovation will be hosted by the Jomo Kenyatta University in Kenya.
The University of Ibadan in Nigeria will be home to a college for life and earth sciences, and the University of Yaounde in Cameroon will house a school for governance, humanities and social sciences.
The European Union is funding a large chunk of the Pan African University project. EU diplomat Harry Debaker said the idea is to foster a European-like environment where African universities attract students from all over the continent. “I very much hope that in a future speech I could end by saying that 'across Africa, millions of students are pursuing their studies in countries which are not their own, often in languages which are not their own',” he said.
An Egyptian representative at the university launch noted that much of North Africa had gone through its Arab Spring in politics. Now, he said, it is time for the continent to experience a spring in science and technology.