Two African students who had benefited from IAEA support have recently received a Young Scientist of the Year award. Josefina Hamutoko, from Namibia, is studying ways to better manage her country’s groundwater resources, and Francis Hasford, from Ghana, is working to improve the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer.
More water for Namibia
Hamutoko, a PhD student at the University of Namibia, won a national award for scientists under 30 for her study of groundwater recharge in the parched aquifers of the Cuvelai-Etosa Basin. For her study, she used an isotope analysis machine provided by the IAEA in 2010.
“Without the machine, we would’ve had to send the sample to a lab in another country, which we could have afforded to do only once a year,” Hamutoko said. By contrast, she and her team can now do many measurements a year, accelerating their research. “Groundwater is dynamic and is affected by climate, space and time, so we need many samples to get the best results,” she said.
They study the isotopes in water to estimate, for example, the groundwater’s origin, interactions and evaporation processes. Their research so far indicates that the aquifer is recharged by rain water. Her results are expected to help policymakers protect the groundwater from pollution and improve overall access to safe drinking water.
“We need to understand how to manage water in a sustainable way, and we cannot do this if we don’t understand our groundwater systems,” Hamutoko said. She won the award not only for her contributions to research in Namibia but for her ability to present her work in various parts of the world, including Vienna in May 2015, where she attended an IAEA international symposium on isotope hydrology.
Better diagnosis and treatment for Ghana
Hasford’s story is quite different. He became the first African to ever win the international Young Scientist of the Year award in the field of medical physics, which is given to the best performing young scientist below the age of 40 working in pure or applied physics.
Hasford studied the use of nuclear medicine to diagnose and treat prostate cancer, and participated in an IAEA fellowship programme that led him to undertake part of his PhD research in South Africa.
For his research, he used positron emission tomography system (PET-CT) and ultrasound to generate medical images, and a special software programme to create a vision of the organ by overlaying these images. This method can lead to more precise diagnosis and treatment.
“Studying in South Africa gave me the possibility to use the PET-CT technique, which we don’t have in Ghana,” Hasford said. His aim is to continue his research and eventually have this method implemented in medical practice.
Hasford’s motivations to do research in the diagnosis and treatment of this type of cancer are twofold. Firstly, prostate cancer is one of the leading causes of death in Ghana. “We need more studies in prostatic cancer management to generate better treatment outcomes and avoid complications for patients,” he said. His second motivation is personal, he said, because his own father suffered from the disease.
Thanks to the IAEA fellowship, Hasford conducted his research at the School of Nuclear and Allied Sciences of the University of Ghana and at the University of Witwatersrand of the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital in South Africa.
His message to fellow scientists in the region?
“Most of us coming from Africa face more challenges as scientists because we lack the most-needed equipment and we don’t have the right infrastructure. But we must not give up. The knowledge is there. No matter where you are, what you do today in the corner of your research lab could have a positive impact on science and could potentially save lives tomorrow.”