This year’s Lindau Nobel Laureates Meetings was a unique virtual international forum in which Nigerians stood tall among 40 Nobel Laureates and over 1,000 young scientists.
Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and three young scientists from Nigeria were participants at the Lindau Nobel Laureates Meetings, a forum that provided an opportunity for exchanges among generations, cultures and disciplines. The trio of Aderonke Sakpere, a computer scientist; Adejumo Oluwabunmi, an economic scientist and Emmanuel Etim, a physical chemist, represented Nigeria at the forum.
To mark the 70th anniversary of the forum, 70 Nobel Laureates were billed to attend the meeting. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the council for the meetings postponed it and the 7th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences until 2021. But alternative online activities held with virtual exchanges among 40 Nobel Laureates and over 1,000 young scientists.
The Online Sciathon 2020 (19-21 June) had 500 participants working virtually together for 48 hours on current scientific topics, while the Lindau Online Science Days took place from June 28 to July 1, 2020.
“I feel proud and humbled, proud to know that I am being recognised, humble to see that I am one out of three Nigerians in a crowd of over 1000,” Dr Aderonke Sakpere, a lecturer/researcher at the University of Ibadan said.
Sakpere took part in the science challenge, and her group clinched the first position. The project idea which provided a direct channel for locally tailored science communication addressed three goals of the Lindau Guidelines: support talents worldwide, communicate science to society and engage in education.
“During the challenge, my team focused on developing a multi-disciplinary and global mentoring system. As a computer scientist, one of my interests is in Human-Computer Interaction,” she said.
“So I contributed to the design of the survey form in such a way that people can understand it, while also ensuring that it can be statistically computed. I was also able to pick up bugs/problems to improve our presentation flow. Lastly, I applied problem-solving skills in computing to approach tasks assigned to me. It was rewarding when our group won the first prize.”
She described the Lindau programme as a fascinating one.
“It’s not every day one gets to see Nobel Laureates. For instance, in Nigeria, we only have one, and I have not met him,” she stated. An event like Lindau brings a lot of them from different parts of the world together and allows you to meet them, learn from them, interact with them and even dine with them.”
On the current pandemic, Sakpere said: “The effects of COVID-19 are devastating. Not just concerning lives lost, but with the way our lives and relationships are being reshaped by this pandemic.”
“I carried out research with colleagues with Economics, Engineering and Computer Science background on the effects of COVID-19 on work productivity. Our research was on the significance of 19 variables on productivity in the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown,” she pointed out.
“Five turned out to be significant. In summary, from our findings, people’s productivity was affected because of depressing news of COVID-19, work boredom, fear of COVID-19, internet availability and remuneration,” she said.
Dr Adejumo Oluwabunmi, one of the 373 young economists said: “I consider it a rare privilege, and I appreciate the African Academy of Sciences for nominating me to be part of the Lindau Meeting.”
The development economist who wants to be a Nobel Laureate through ground breaking research someday tags the Lindau programme as quite exciting, informative and network-based, noting that it allows networking and exchange of ideas across disciplines.
The lecturer/researcher at ObafemiAwolowo University, Ile Ife, Nigeria believes that the application of science to Africa’s development should consider the peculiarities of the African environment.
“In the discussion of COVID-19, I noted the imminence of economic planning as a necessary process that African economies must embrace to witness rebound from the shocks caused by the pandemic,” she stated.
Speaking on her profession as a lecturer, she said the ability to train and interact with students and upcoming business start-ups in entrepreneurial dimensions is quite fulfilling.
“Also, the opportunity to contribute and advance the frontiers of knowledge in the direction of poverty reduction is quite rewarding,” she added.
Attending the online 2020 Days Lindau programme is a dream come true for physical chemist, Emmanuel E. Etim of the Department of Chemical Sciences, Federal University Wukari, Taraba State.
“It gave me an opportunity to interact with the very best experts in the different disciplines that constitute my research interest and beyond.
“As a physical chemist with all the tools available to me, I went into the event well equipped to lend my voice to addressing the issues presented which were all within my purview as a chemist,” Etim said.
“Beginning from the Covid-19 pandemic in which chemists are searching for a solution from natural products/phytochemicals, the climate change problem in which chemists are at the forefront with measures on how to mitigate this problem to the global scientific practice in which chemists are not left out,” he said.
He added that it gave him a different perspective on how to address global issues.
“I learnt from global experts, improved on my skills and knowledge across different fields. The experience gathered in this event will go a long way in reshaping my career as a scientist,” he said.
“Listening to our very own Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka on the last day of the event was a proud moment for me as a Nigerian, I was once again inspired,” he added.
As one of the three Nigerians at the event, Etim hopes to go back home as an agent of change, to share with Nigerians his experience and chart a new course on re-orientation as it regards global issues, be it scientific or non-scientific, to make Nigeria and indeed Africa a better place.
Etim has published over 80 research articles with his research work addressing challenges especially in the areas of water and environment.
“We were one of the first groups to apply water quality index in giving accurate qualitative information about the water quality in different parts of Nigeria, especially the Niger Delta region where the different components of the environment (air, water and soil) are severely affected by the activities of multinational oil and gas companies,” he said.
He noted that implementation of a Low-Carbon Economy (LCE) has emerged as a possible solution at different levels to the problem of balancing the demands of combating climate change with those of maintaining economic growth and alleviating poverty.
“We have thoroughly examined the levels of awareness and performance relating to the promotion of an LCE among the general public indifferent parts of Nigeria. The study strongly suggests that the general public in Nigeria has the potential to be a major facilitator of environmental improvement in the country,” he said as he looks forward to meeting and interacting with the participants personally next year during the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings in Germany.
The 2020 Lindau Online Science Days covered burning issues of climate change, the novel coronavirus pandemic and international scientific cooperation.
In his discourse titled: ‘A time of lethal ambiguities’, Professor Wole Soyinka took a critical look at the bond of humanity.
“We tend to think that by now, humanity has learned some brutal lessons, purely the way, and has come to a realisation that the sole operational option of our times after the age of the atomic bomb, the hydrogen bomb, resumed their destruction, HIV, Ebola, Lassa Fever, SARS, etc, consists of no other route than the collaborative ethos,” he pointed out.
“The opposite proved to be the case, and what a sobering recognition,” he added.
Soyinka urged commitment to the termination of the lethal choices which he noted hundreds and thousands of people are subjected to in their search for meaningful existence.
“The time of lockdowns comes and goes, but we should permanently lock out the unfortunates of society from our humanity. This truly would represent a brutal victory for a cruel pandemic,” he said.
The theme of the Lindau Meetings alternated among Physics, Chemistry or Physiology and Medicine – the three Nobel Prize scientific disciplines. However, every five years, such as this year, an interdisciplinary meeting takes place.
Wolfgang Haas, the Head of Communications Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, noted: “Through the medium of various declarations (2015 on climate change, 1955 against the use of nuclear weapons), the scientists have repeatedly joined in the public debates with political appeals.”
Countess Bettina Bernadotte, president of the council for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, asserted: “With the online science days, we are keeping the science flag flying high in a different way this year, especially under such exceptional circumstances, scientific exchange is essential.
“Even this year, we are providing a platform where scientists can interchange across borders, naturally, not in person like in Lindau, but still a contribution to international science diplomacy.
“However, the quality of scientific exchange remains to be of the utmost importance to us. And so, regardless of this year’s success, we wish for nothing more in Lindau than that the Meetings 2021 can take place as planned.”