ICTP-EAIFR Masters Celebration

23 Jun 2021

On 22 June, ICTP-EAIFR celebrated a milestone in its three years of existence: its first batch of master students have successfully completed the requirements for a masters degree.

The nine masters students, coming from Rwanda, Uganda and Sudan, were enrolled in the MSc physics programme that EAIFR conducts with the University of Rwanda. After two years of intense coursework (prolonged to a third year because of the COVID pandemic) and defending a thesis, the students are well prepared for future careers in science. Many of the students have already been accepted to PhD studies at universities in the US and Europe, while others have been hired to teach at the University of Rwanda and at secondary schools.

Their achievements were celebrated during a hybrid ceremony broadcast from EAIFR's facility at the University of Rwanda in Kigali that featured speeches by the graduates, professors and relevant personalities, such as the ICTP-EAIFR Director Omololu Akin-Ojo, ICTP current and former directors Atish Dabholkar and Fernando Quevedo, and a keynote message by the executive director of the Higher Education Council of Rwanda, Dr. Rose Mukankomeje.

The ceremony began with a welcome message by ICTP-EAIFR Director Akin-Ojo, who acknowledged the students' achievements and launched a video presenting the ICTP partner institute of Rwanda as a centre that focusses on using physics and fundamental research to make significant contributions to Africa, and as a world-class, vibrant international science hub.

"I am very delighted to witness and celebrate the achievements of the first cohort of students that completed their master of science in physics delivered by EAIFR", said Ignace Gatare, Principal of the College of Science Technology (CST), of the University of Rwanda, in his address to the students. "The world we are living in today has been positively transformed by discoveries in fundamental physics, from material science to climate research to space science. Beyond contributing to expanding the frontiers of human knowledge, these advances in fundamental physics have been at the centre of technological breakthroughs, such as information technologies and renewable energy. This means that physics is not only the driver of modern economies, but  is also the driver of the transformation of our lives."

Inaugurated in 2018, ICTP-EAIFR offers the same quality research and educational opportunities for which ICTP is world-renowned, but at a location more easily accessible to African scientists. "It is very emotional for me to be at this event today," said former ICTP director Fernando Quevedo, "because it reminds me of the time when we were all working very hard towards the decision to build this centre in Rwanda. It reminds me of a book by Professor Abdus Salam talking about ideas turning into realities. And this is precisely what we are doing today, we are witnessing an idea that has transformed into a great reality, that is contributing to the culture of science in Africa in a very important way. This will make a big difference, and I hope the collaboration between ICTP in Trieste and the staff in Kigali will continue stronger and stronger in the future."

ICTP-EAIFR is hosted by the University of Rwanda and supported by the Government of Rwanda's Ministry of Education. It has been designated a UNESCO Category 2 institute in recognition of its important role in building scientific capacity in Africa.

"We at ICTP are really, really proud of what we are celebrating today," added ICTP Director Atish Dabholkar. "This is one of the most rewarding aspects of ICTP: when you see people's lives being impacted in this manner it makes me proud of ICTP's mission in supporting the scientific communities in Africa and in least advantaged countries. I hope that today's landmark is just the beginning of what will come."

Two out of nine graduates are female scientists who have been supported by the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) programme. "It's just wonderful being here today celebrating this event," said OWSD coordinator Tonya Blowers. "This is the demonstration that an organization like ours is really necessary to promote science careers for brilliant women scientists from least advantaged countries. This is really important for the representation of women in science in Africa. There is no reason that women can't be doing physics or mathematics and our mission is really to encourage women to take part in science projects as much as possible."

Among all of the nine graduates who said a few words at the celebration, David Waligo, who ranked number one in academics, remembered a post that ICTP scientist Sandro Scandolo had posted on Facebook after a lecture for the EAIFR students, calling them "Africa's rising stars of physics". "I want to stress to my fellow graduates, that if we are referred to as Africa's rising stars of physics," said Waligo, "we really have to work hard to maintain that title, and to be sure that that portrayal was the truth. I remind you that a seed has been planted in us, and if we let it grow, it could be the start of something really great."