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More Science Careers: African School Of Physics on Mission To Educate New African Generation Through Traveling Program

"Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement," she wrote in an email. She noted "increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce."

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Ketevi Assamagan, a particle physicist at the U.S.-based Brookhaven National Laboratory, co-founded the African School of Physics, a training program for graduate students in math and sciences. (Photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory) VOA

Africa-born particle physicist Ketevi Assamagan is a man on a mission. His goal is to bring science education to a new generation of young Africans through a traveling program known as the African School of Fundamental Physics and Applications, or ASP.

“Sometimes, people just need some help to be able to find the right resources,” said Assamagan, an ASP founder who works at the U.S. Energy Department’s Brookhaven National Laboratory here on Long Island. “So, together with some colleagues, we decided to create this school.”

Born in Guinea, Assamagan grew up in Togo and earned a doctorate from the University of Virginia in 1995. Gratitude to past mentors fueled his desire to start the ASP, he said.

Positive elements

The ASP program runs for three weeks every two years in a different African country. The first was in 2010 in South Africa, with subsequent gatherings in Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda and Namibia. The next is planned for July 2020 in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Each workshop brings together up to 80 students, who are treated to intensive lectures and training by top-flight physicists.

Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)
Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)

“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.”

The students’ expenses are covered by roughly 20 international sponsors, including the Brookhaven lab; the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy; the South African Department of Science and Technology; and Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics.

Another sponsor has been the European Center for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, in Geneva. Assamagan worked on CERN’s particle accelerator for several years while conducting research on the elusive Higgs boson subatomic particle. He left in 2001 to join Brookhaven.

Sustained support

After the program, participants are paired with senior mentors who offer advice on additional education, teaching and research opportunities, both in Africa and abroad.

For Zimbabwe native Last Feremenga, participation in the 2010 ASP workshop served as a springboard to a doctorate in physics from the University of Texas. Now he’s a data scientist with Digital Reasoning, an artificial intelligence firm headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I sift through large datasets of written text in search of rare forms of conversations/language. These rare conversations are useful for our clients from health care to finance,” the 32-year-old told VOA in an email. He added that he’s using “similar tactics” to those he learned at ASP.

Julia MacKenzie, senior director of international affairs for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says training programs such as ASP are especially important in developing countries.

“Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement,” she wrote in an email. She noted “increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce.”

“A potential impact of graduate training is exposure to new ideas and people,” MacKenzie added. “Any time graduate students can come together, it’s likely that new friendships will form, and those relationships can provide support through inevitable challenges and spawn new collaborations.”

application learning
“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.” Pixabay
Hands-on learning

Assamagan says that when he was in high school in Togo, science was taught from second-hand textbooks from abroad. There was no experimentation.

“Direct involvement … in terms of playing with things and getting mental challenge to try to figure it out was not really there,” he said. “We want to resolve that” through ASP.

The 70 or so science teachers at the workshop last year in Namibia learned hands-on experiments that could be replicated with scant equipment and resources.

For example, using only a small plastic box with an aluminum plate, tin foil, Styrofoam, pure alcohol and dry ice, high school students could build a tabletop “cloud chamber” to simulate the detection of cosmic particles from outer space. Another experiment taught physics to elementary school children by way of art. The children could drip paint on a canvas tilted at various angles, then observe the patterns the paint made as it descended.

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“You can then start introducing the idea of gravity,” Assamagan said. “And then relating things falling down to the Earth going around the sun as being driven by the same force.”

Assamagan predicts a bright future for physics research in Africa. He says he sees talent and commitment, but that more digital libraries, along with continent-wide access to high-speed internet connections and the political will to provide them, are needed. (VOA)

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Bharti Airtel’s Africa Posts Net Profit of $83 mn on Net and Payment Biz Growth

Airtel Money posted a revenue of $70 million in Q4 as compared to $38 million in the previous quarter

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There will be zero subscription charge for Airtel users with unlimited streaming and downloads, the company said. Wikimedia

Bharti Airtel’s Africa subsidiary has posted a net profit of $83 million (around Rs 581 crore at Rs 70 a dollar exchange) for the March-end quarter, compared with a net loss of $49 million a year ago, boosted by a surge in data consumption and a rise in the volume of transaction value on the Airtel Money platform.

But the net income has fallen substantially and sequentially from $123 million in the December quarter.

The Sunil Mittal company said this was due to an exceptional loss of $7 million, “mainly on account network modernisation across various OPCOs (operating companies),” the quarterly earnings report of the company said.

The total revenue for Airtel Africa rose 6 per cent on-year to $781 million, though it fell from $783 million sequentially.

The net income and revenue both have fallen sequentially. Airtel Africa is in the process of a public listing on the London Stock Exchange around June this year in order to raise $1.5-$1.6 billion.

The net debt of the Africa operations has fallen to $4,004 million from $7,755 million a year ago period and marginally from $4,189 million in the December quarter.

“Data usage per customer during the quarter was at 1,375 MBs as compared to 963 MBs in the corresponding quarter last year, an increase of 42.7 per cent,” the company said, adding that data customers increased by 5.1 million on year to 30 million, representing 30.4 per cent of the total customer base, as compared to 27.9 per cent in the year-ago quarter.

Bharti Airtel’s office.

The total minutes on the network during the just-ended quarter grew 18.3 per cent to 52.9 billion.

The company said that its Airtel Money customer base increased 24 per cent annually to 14.2 million and the total transaction value on Airtel Money platform increased by 22 per cent to $6.9 billion.

Airtel Money posted a revenue of $70 million in Q4 as compared to $38 million in the previous quarter.

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Airtel Africa serves 99 million customers in 14 countries. Its Ebidta rose 16 per cent on-year (earnings before interest tax, depreciation & amortisation) at $354 million. On-year Ebitda margin also expanded from 42 per cent in the fiscal third quarter to 43.8 per cent in the fiscal fourth quarter.

But average revenue per user (ARPU) – a key performance metric – dropped 3.1 per cent on-year and 3.4 per cent sequentially – to $2.7. Voice ARPU also fell 3.5 per cent on quarter and 7.2 per cent on year, but data ARPU rose 2.8 per cent and 6.8 per cent sequentially and on-year wise.

Airtel’s Africa unit has already raised $1.45 billion through pre-IPO placements to the likes of Qatar Investment Authority, Warburg Pincus, Temasek, Singtel and SoftBank Group International, to reduce its net debt. (IANS)