A Guinean solves a 270 years old Mathematics Problem

Ibrahima Sambegou Diallo (Credit: Creative Commons)
Ibrahima Sambegou Diallo (Credit: Creative Commons)

Ibrahima Sambégou Diallo may have become the first African mathematician of the contemporary era to have elaborated a theorem.  This Guinean journalist who recently reconverted himself into mathematics has found the solution to the Goldbach’s conjecture, which is one of the oldest best unsolved mathematics problems of all times.  The Goldbach’s conjecture was elaborated 270 years ago by Christian Goldbach, tutor of the tsar Peter II, and employee in the Russian Foreign affairs’s ministry.  In 1742, Goldbach sent a letter to Euler, stating the Goldbach’s conjecture: “Every even integer greater than 2 can be expressed as the sum of two primes.” For instance, 6 = 3 + 3; 8 = 3 + 5; 10 = 3 + 7 = 5 + 5; 30 = 11 + 19 = 13 + 17; 100 = 17 + 83 … This mathematical problem was so hard to solve that it took 270 years, and hundreds of mathematicians around the globe working on it.

It took Ibrahima 14 years of hard work to finally come up with the answer; this projects him in the court of the great mathematicians of this world.  He had been in contest with some well-known and well-supported American researchers.  Ibrahima Sambégou Diallo has been knocking at all doors to validate his work.  Finding no support in his own country, Guinea, Ibrahima has decided to go to Dakar to validate his results at the mathematics institute there. He hopes to find support so as to become the first contemporary African to have elaborated a theorem.  For the full article, go to diasporas-noires.com.

Sameera Moussa: World-renowned Egyptian Nuclear Scientist

Sameera Moussa
Sameera Moussa

There are so few female scientists in the world, and particularly in Africa, that I had to talk about Sameera Moussa, the world-renowned Egyptian nuclear scientist.  Sameera Moussa held a doctorate in atomic radiation, specializing on making the medical use of nuclear technology affordable to all.  She organized the Atomic Energy for Peace Conference and sponsored a call for setting an international conference under the banner “Atom for Peace,” where many prominent scientists were invited.  The conference made a number of recommendations for setting up a committee to protect against nuclear hazards, for which she strongly advocated.

Sameera was born in the Gharbia Governorate in Egypt in 1917.  After she lost her mother to cancer, she vowed to study how to better medicine through science.  She went on the join the faculty of Sciences at the University of Cairo, where she earned a BSc in Radiology in 1939, with first class honors.  She became a remarkable faculty, and the first woman to hold a university post.  Being the first to obtain a Ph.D. degree in atomic radiation, she earnestly sought to make nuclear treatment to everyone. She used to say: “I’ll make nuclear treatment as available and as cheap as aspirin.” She worked hard for this purpose and throughout her intensive research, she came up with a historic equation that would help break the atoms of cheap metals such as copper, ultimately paving the way for a cheap nuclear bomb.  Sameera also volunteered to help treat cancer patients at various hospitals especially since her mother went through a fierce battle against this disease.

Sameera Moussa at the University of Cairo
Sameera Moussa at the University of Cairo

Later on, Sameera received a Fullbright scholarship to study at modern research facilities at the California University.  In recognition for her pioneering nuclear research, she was given permission to visit the secret US atomic facilities.  The visit raised vehement debate in the United States Academic and Scientific circles since Sameera was the first “alien” to have access to such facilities.

She turned down several offers that required her to live in the United States and be granted American citizenship, saying “Egypt, my dear homeland, is waiting for me.”  On August 5th, 1952 after her first visit to America she intended to return home, but was invited on another trip.  On the way, the car rushed down from a height of 40 feet, which killed her immediately.  The mystery surrounding her accident, since the invitation to California, made people suspicious and many believe that it was a planned assassination.

Today, Sameera has been awarded several prizes (the 1953 honor by the Egyptian Army, and the 1981 Order of Science and Arts by , but most importantly she has paved the way for Egyptian and African women scientists.  It feels so great to know that back in the 1930s, and 1950s, when there were people like Enrico Fermi, Albert Einstein, Maria Goeppert-Mayer, there was also Sameera Moussa, an outstanding Egyptian Female scientist who thought of ‘Atoms for Peace’ and wanted cheap treatments for all.

Cheikh Modibo Diarra: NASA’s First African Astrophysicist

Cheikh Modibo Diarra
Cheikh Modibo Diarra

NASA’s First African astrophysicist and key player in the exploration of Mars with the Pathfinder and Sojourner projects, Cheikh Modibo Diarra is without doubt a brilliant scientist.  As a physicist from similar background, this Malian scientist has inspired me by his intelligence and hard work.  Cheikh Modibo Diarra earned his baccalaureate in Mali; he then went on to study mathematics, physics and analytical mechanics at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris.  After a while, he got bored by his classes (a sign of genius?) and went on an adventure exploring the world, and ended up in the USA at a friend’s invitation.  He then attended Howard University in Washington DC where he earned a PhD in aerospatial engineering. Later, he taught at Howard as a physics professor, until one day he met two recruiters from Jet Propulsion Laboratory (a NASA Lab) in the corridor of his building.  That’s when his career with NASA started.  Recruited as NASA’s first African researcher, Diarra participated in programs such as the Magellan probe to Venus, the Ulysses probe to the Sun, the Galileo spacecraft to Jupiter, the Mars Observer and the Mars Pathfinder.  He later became the director of NASA’s “Mars Exploration Program Education and Public Outreach.”

The Sojourner rover
The Sojourner rover

In 1999, he created the Pathfinder Foundation for the education and development of Africa.  Three years later, he founded the solar energy research laboratory of Bamako in Mali.  He is involved in programs for the development of Africa. On the 20th of February 2006, he was appointed the head of Microsoft Africa.  Cheikh Diarra is currently based in Johannesburg where he works with Microsoft South Africa and WECA (West , East and Central Africa).

"Navigateur Interplanetaire" de Cheikh Modibo Diarra
“Navigateur Interplanetaire” de Cheikh Modibo Diarra

Please help me applaud this proud African scientist, hailing from Segou, in the heart of the Bambara kingdom!  If you have a chance, check out his book Navigateur Interplanétaire, which is available in French, and other languages.  Other sites such as Grioo.com, africansuccess.org, and Wikipedia will provide you with more biographical information about this world-renowned Malian scientist!

The Mpemba effect: Hot water freezes faster than cold water

As an African physicist, I have always wondered why there were no laws, theorems, equations named after African scientists. Living in a world where Schrodinger equation, Bose-Einstein statistics, Pythagorean theorem, and Newton’s laws are norms, and being African, I have always felt left out… It is as if my forefathers were not interested in science, or that modern day Africans were not as bright as Raman (Physics Nobel 1930) or Chandrasekhar (Physics Nobel 1983). Well… I was amazingly surprised when I stumbled upon ‘the Mpemba effect‘: made in Africa, by an African high schooler in 1963 (he later published his findings in 1969). Today, people apply his law without even thinking about where it comes from.

Erasto B. Mpemba, hailing from Tanzania, was still in high school when he came across this phenomenon when freezing hot milk; he noticed that it would freeze before the cold one. After repeating his experiments several times with water and milk, the Mpemba effect was born.  The heat transfer is bigger between the warm water and the freezer, than between the cold water and the freezer, leading to a faster process. Several mechanisms can be used to explain this effect, such as: – Evaporation (endothermic process); – Convection (faster heat transfers); frost formation (the colder water will tend to freeze from the top, reducing further heat loss by radiation and air convection, while the warmer water will tend to freeze from the bottom and sides because of water convection); supercooling; and – dissolved gases (Hot water can hold less dissolved gas than cold water, and large amounts of gas escape upon boiling.  So the initially warmer water may have less dissolved gas than the initially cooler water). More information on the ‘Mpemba effect’ can be found on Mpemba and Osborne, “Cool”, Physics Education vol. 4, pgs 172–5 (1969) and Can hot water freeze faster than cold water?

As of 2002 Erasto B. Mpemba is retired from being Principal Game Officer for the African Forestry and Wildlife Commission. This might not give rise to a Nobel prize, but it is enough to inspire others.