Prof Delia Haynes, a chemist at Stellenbosch University's Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science, was elected as the first president of the newly established African Crystallographic Association (AfCA).
AfCA was officially constituted at the recent online Pan-African Conference on Crystallography (ePCCr), at a session attended by representatives from the International Union of Crystallography (IUCr), UNESCO, the International Science Council and the African Academy of Science.
Prof Haynes says the establishment of AfCA is the result of the efforts of a group of dedicated scientists and several international and African science bodies to develop the field of crystallography in Africa. Since 1999, these efforts have culminated in student support, unique training opportunities known as OpenLabs, and working together with suppliers to install equipment.
She says the mission of AfCA is to contribute to the advancement of science in Africa via crystallography in all its aspects, and to promote cooperation amongst African crystallographers. AfCA will, inter alia, create a database of African crystallographers and ensure their registration in the International Union of Crystallography (IUCr) World Directory of Crystallographers (WDC).
Other objectives include the establishment of national associations of crystallography in African countries, the organisation of the PCCr conference every two years, training activities and a public awareness and engagement program.
AfCA will also work towards the establishment of equipment firstly in at least one country in each of the five regions of the continent: Central Africa, West Africa, North Africa, Southern Africa and East Africa. This will encourage research cooperation and require researchers to travel across borders.
She says ease of travel between African countries has been a hindrance to research collaboration on the continent. In this regard, AfCA will lobby for a scientific visa to ensure the mobility of researchers between African countries.
“Crystallography underpins many sciences, and drives advances in economic and health systems, education and infrastructure. Indeed, crystallography is essential for the development and improvement of almost all materials and medicines and forms the backbone of a wide range of industries. We would like crystallography to be a vehicle for the sustainable development of Africa's economy and society," she concludes.
What is crystallography?
Crystallography is the science or technique of working out the arrangement of the atoms in almost any solid in order to understand its behavior – from diamonds and salt crystals to the double helix structure of DNA. Today crystallography provides important observational and mechanistic insights for a range of scientific disciplines, such as biomedical research, energy, food and water supply, earth sciences, geophysics and forensic science. In fact, crystallography was, and continues to be, a vital tool in developing effective vaccines for SARS-CoV-2.
Due to the lack of analytical facilities in most African countries, however, crystallography is not well developed on the continent. Many countries do not have even one diffractometer, the instrument used to carry out crystallographic studies. Africa is also the only continent in the world, excluding Antarctica, without a synchrotron light source, a powerful tool in crystallographic research.
On the photo above: AfCA's inaugural executive committee consists of Prof Haynes as president, Dr Patrice Kenfack Tsobnang from the University of Dschang, Cameroon, as vice-president, Dr Rim Benali-Cherif from the Abbes Laghrour-Khenchela University in Algeria as treasurer, and Dr Gift Mehlana from Midlands State University in Zimbabwe as secretary. The other members are Dr Marielle Agbahoungbata from X-Tech lab, Sèmè City Development Agency in Benin, Prof Seham Abdel-Aal from Cairo University in Egypt, Dr Adam Bouraima from Université des Sciences et Techniques de Masuku in Gabon, Dr Dickson Andala from the Multimedia University of Kenya, and Dr Mamoudou Diallo from Assane Seck Ziguinchor University in Senegal.
Prof Delia Haynes
Phone: 021 808-3358