Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Learning from the Masters

(An editorial in the September-December 2016 edition of the magazine: The Budding Scientist – Grooming Successors in Science, Mathematics and Engineering)

The time of tutelage is a critical time in the life of any student. It is the time the student is expected to learn and imbibe some of the cardinal principles needed for effective participation in his/her chosen career. But how well a student learns is dependent on the tutor. Also, how distinguished the student becomes in future is dependent on who taught him.

It is written in the Holy Bible that a servant cannot be greater than the master (at least, not when he is still a servant). In other words, the quality of the master determines, to a large extent, what the servant would become. Like must beget like! And a lion must give birth to a lion. Even with the mind-blowing advances in biotechnology and genetic engineering, this fundamental law of nature is yet to be faulted. Or have you seen a lizard giving birth to an alligator?

A look at the lives and works of many great scientists only but buttresses the above point. For almost a decade now, I have concerned myself with the works and biographies of many great scientists. I have also discovered that a common thread joins them: they all learnt under the tutelage of great minds! It is what a man has that he gives! Moreover, greatness is a seed, and only those who have it can sow it in the lives of others. It is a chain reaction!

Sir John Joseph Thompson is today known for his great contribution to science, not because he discovered the electron, but for his dedicated and gifted teaching and research abilities. It is on record that seven of his research assistants, including his son George Paget Thomson, won Nobel Prizes in Physics. Or should we talk of Lord Rutherford? Many of the students who worked with him ended up winning Nobel Prizes: David Hedrick Niels Bohr, James Chadwick, John Cockcroft, Ernest Walton, Blackett and others. In fact, many of the researches on the atom in the early 20th Century were directly or indirectly suggested by him.

It is also true that Michael Faraday, who many describe as the father of electricity, did not have significant formal education. But Faraday learnt under the elbow of a great chemist and lecturer of the time – Sir Humphrey Davy. It was he who invented the miner’s lamp, discovered potassium and laughing gas. Davy was then in-charge of scientific experimentation in the Royal Institution (then centre for science research and popular lectures). There is no way Faraday would have been so distinguished in science if not for the things he learnt from Davy.

The above is not different with many great Nigerian scientists. I am yet to see a very distinguished Nigerian scientist who did not train under a very renowned scientist. In fact, some of them trained under Nobel laureates and field medalists. And when you see them, you would know. The message is simple: the quality of the master determines what the servant becomes!
In the spirit of learning from the masters, we have, in this edition, a very distinguished Nigerian scientists (the master) from which our students should learn from. He is Professor Aderemi Oluyomi Kuku, one of Africa’s finest in Mathematics. Professor Kuku is currently the President, African Academy of Sciences (the apex scientific academy in Africa), and the first Nigerian to rise to such a position. He has been a visiting Professor in so many universities and research institutes in the world: US, UK, China, Germany, Hong Kong and others. He is the only African-born who is a Foundation Fellow of the American Mathematical Society (in that every other African who is a Foundation Fellow of AMS was not born in Africa). Professor Kuku is also a Fellow of The World Academy of Science, African Academy of Sciences, Mongolian Academy of Science, Nigerian Academy of Science, Nigerian Mathematical Society, and the Mathematical Association of Nigeria. He is a recipient of the Nigeria’s national honour of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) and the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM), which is the highest award for intellectual accomplishment in Nigeria. To cap it all, at his 70th birthday (March 20, 2011), Nanjing University, in faraway China, held an International conference on “Algebraic K-theory and its Applications” (March 17-21, 2011) in his honour. The proceeding of that conference was the embodiment of a special issue of the Journal of K-theory, Vol.12 No.1, dedicated to him and published by Cambridge University Press. This is indeed a rare privilege given to any black (not even African) in the world. In fact, there are only few Nigerians in sciences that have his quality of credentials.

Professor Kuku in this edition bares his mind on some of the secrets that have distinguished him, not only in mathematics but science in general. Please join us as we explore the life and career of this great son of Africa. We have also included, as a special flavor and to inspire our audience, a brief citation of Professor Anya O. Anya, another similarly distinguished scientist and the first Nigerian basic scientist to win the Nigerian National Order of Merit award. Should you be interested in reaching us, please call 08064383985 or send email to chigozieubani@yahoo.com.

Editor, The Budding Scientist
And Chairman, Global Science Development Initiatives