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Alumni stories: Celebrating the achievements of Ghanaians in Photonics

For almost a decade now, Ghanaian students enrolled in our program, Master's Degree in Photonics (MDP) have demonstrated excellent performance and are our first set of students to launch a professional group named Photonics Ghana. This is a testament to the quality of students produced by the International MDP program, run by the Department of Physics and Mathematics, at the University of Eastern Finland (UEF). To show support and appreciation of their contribution towards the tenth-anniversary celebration of the MDP in photonics, the Department provided a platform for the launch of the Photonics Ghana group. This group is a brilliant initiative of our Ghanaian students to promote Photonics in their home country and largely in developing countries.

The MDP is a two-year program that has a variety of tuition fee waivers available. Students enrolled in this competitive program are taught by world-class experts in a state-of-the-art environment. Photonics being the science of generation, manipulation, and detection of light has contributed to technological advancements in almost every sector of life including smartphones and computers, display technologies, military equipment, medical and pharmaceutics instruments. Finland stands proud and is a pioneer in the Photonics and its applications. The field of Photonics has proven to be one of the world’s best scientific endeavours to positively impact humanity and still promises more. The study of photonics requires motivated and brilliant minds to push its frontiers in realizing the vast potential that is yet to be explored.

In a discussion with Dr. Prince Bawuah, the very first Ghanaian and African to enrol in the MDP program in 2011, he noted the overarching benefits of our MDP program and how Photonics has helped him develop solutions in pharmaceutical analysis that are urgently needed. Concerning the performance of our Ghanaian students, he also emphasized that “besides the relatively high quality of the Ghanaian educational system, students are trained to be hardworking and determined.” Dr. Bawuah believes that the typical Ghanaian is born smart and brought up with good moral values, hence can easily cope with different and challenging environments. Dr. Bawuah himself demonstrated these Ghanaian qualities during his studies at our Department by being the first, among his peers, to complete both his master’s and doctoral studies with distinction in 2017. Following similar steps, all Ghanaian students who have also enrolled in the MDP program are living up to the high standards previously established, with some obtaining distinction in both their course work and master’s thesis.

As a University, we are proud to announce that we have so far trained 19 Ghanaian students through our MDP program. Out of these, three are already Ph.D. holders from UEF, University of Copenhagen-Denmark, and Åbo Akademy Turku-Finland, with one of them also being an Adjunct Professor (Docent) at our Department. Whilst most of them have recently graduated and are currently seeking academic and industrial positions, ten are currently at different stages of their Ph.D. studies, with five of them in our Department, and the others also enrolled in other world-class Universities such as Technical University of Denmark (DTU), University of Arkansas at Little Rock-USA, University College of Cork-Ireland, University of Tampere-Finland and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology-Ghana. Two of them have also worked in top companies like Microsoft and VTT Finland. One of our past students, Mr. Danlard Iddrisu, is currently a lecturer at the Sunyani Technical University, Ghana.

Spotlight on major research contributions: To throw more light on their endeavours and contributions, these Ghanaians are researching cutting-edge scientific and technological fields with global impacts as well as tackling specific problems in the African continent.

Global Impact: The recent development of a novel tool (TeraSolve) that permits the fast and non-destructive quality checking of pharmaceutical tablets during manufacture has received incredible attention in the pharmaceutical sector. Dr. Bawuah, who currently works as a Research Associate in the terahertz application group of the University of Cambridge -UK and as a visiting Adj. Professor at the Department of Physics and Mathematics of UEF, is playing a significant role in the project. He works in collaboration with top industrial players such as GSK, TeraVeiw Ltd, and Huxley Bertram Engineering Ltd to make TeraSolve an analytical instrument in Pharma.

To emphasize the versatility of photonics graduates, Dr. Eric Kissi, after his master’s degree completed his PhD in pharmaceutical science, he currently works for Nanoform Finland Oyj in Helsinki. He has significantly contributed to developing personalised medication with 3D printing and in the field of amorphous drugs. Amorphization of drugs improves their solubility properties, and hence, the efficacy of the drug when administered.

Dr. Kofi Brobbey finalized his doctoral thesis in the production of antibacterial surfaces that can be used in hospitals to reduce the prevalence of healthcare-associated infections. His work at VTT was related to printed electronics processing and optical design for biomedical optics.

With the current global concern on microplastics as a looming threat to the environment, humans, as well as aquatic lives, a group at the Department of Physics and Mathematics of UEF, have recently developed an optical sensor that can detect microplastics in water and are actively working on an integrated optical solution for in-situ monitoring of microplastics in the aquatic environment. Mr. Benjamin Asamoah, who is currently pursuing his PhD at the Department, is playing a significant role in developing microplastic analysis. His success story that has been published as a news item in the most popular Optics and Photonics news.

Mr. Yadem Aayire Clement, a Ph.D. student in Applied Science (Physics) at University of Arkansas at Little Rock – USA, has his research focus on the biomedical application of photoacoustic. He combines photonics and ultra-sound principles to the development, prototyping and clinical translation of photoacoustic flow cytometry system (dubbed ‘Cytophone’). This is geared towards non-invasive early detection of melanoma cancer and malaria.

Mr. Atsu Lewis Asilevi who is also a Ph.D. student at the Department of Physics and Mathematics UEF has his Ph.D. studies focused on the theoretical and computational modelling of electromagnetic surface waves. One interesting property about these electromagnetic surface waves is that they can be tightly localized in a very small volume. In as much as this study focuses on the fundamental Physics underpinning these electromagnetic surface waves, the outcome of this study will find applications in sensing, nonlinear optics, optical computing among many others.

Miss Marian Baah is the first female Ghanaian to enrol in the MDP program and she describes her success story in Photonics as uplifting. She was one of the few females to join Laser and Fibre Optics Centre (LAFOC) of the University of Cape Coast Ghana and pursue physics as a career. It is no wonder that she has landed a PhD position at our department, and currently developing photonics solutions in integrated optics. She is developing nanostructured graphitic films and integrated optics for other photonics and medical applications. We hope that her outstanding performance and contributions to Photonics serve as an alluring motivation to attract other women to the field.

Mr. Michael Amissah, who is currently with the Irish Photonics Integration Centre in Ireland is also involved in clinical studies in the diagnosis of colorectal cancer. He is a Ph.D. student working on ultrasound modulation of light for medical imaging. In layman’s terms, this is a deep tissue imaging modality that seeks to add molecular sensitivity or optical contrast to ultrasound imaging systems. Michael, after completing his MDP in Photonics, worked with Microsoft for more than two years before commencing his Ph.D. studies.

Lab-on-a-photonic crystal fibre (PCF) integrates several laboratory functions on a single miniaturized PCF structure to provide high-throughput screening. However, such sensors cascaded with multiple elements limit the size and introduces crosstalk compromising on their sensitivity. Mr. Iddrisu, a Ph.D. student at the KNUST, is designing and analysing multiparameter PCF sensors with operational domains in the visible, infrared, and terahertz regions for simultaneously measuring different physicochemical parameters such as refractive index, temperature, and pH.

Africa: Building on how the work of these scientists directly affects the African continent, Dr. Bawuah, Dr. Kissi, and Mr. Iddrisu have also contributed to the development of cheap optical sensors for tracking counterfeit malaria drugs flooding the markets of Africa. Mr. Asamoah and Dr. Bawuah, as part of a group at UEF, pioneered the development of cheap optical sensors for the detection of adulterated diesel oils, a prevalent problem in Africa. Mr. Yadem is currently involved in a malaria diagnosis research study with a local group in Cameroon as part of field conditions assessment of their newly developed Cytophone-based malaria detection.

Photonics solutions for specific problems facing Ghana: Besides the already mentioned developments with a direct impact on mitigating some of the challenges in Ghana, food adulteration and substandard goods also need addressing. At the Institute of Photonics UEF, a group is currently developing an optical-based sensor to detect adulteration of edible palm oil with Sudan III & IV dyes. Mr. Sampson Saj Andoh, who is currently a Ph.D. candidate at UEF, and Mr. Asamoah have been instrumental in this research.

The tenth-anniversary celebration and the launch of Photonics Ghana group:

It has been a decade since the inception of the international MDP in photonics and as part of the just ended tenth-anniversary celebration, the Photonics Ghana group (visit website here) was successfully launched. The launch, which was held virtually (Microsoft Teams) on the 19th of November 2020 was supported and hosted by the Department of Physics and Mathematics UEF as part of the popular MSc Photonics Application Course.

The Photonics Ghana group brings together Ghanaian experts and students in Photonics with the sole aim of promoting science and Photonics in Ghana. As a University, we are also happy to witness the manifestation of the excellent Finnish educational system and the Finnish government's support in equipping individuals to take up such meaningful responsibilities.

In a discussion with Dr. Bawuah, who is currently the acting president of the group, he acknowledged the high-quality training provided by UEF and expressed his appreciation for the scholarship provided by the Finnish Government. Dr. Bawuah said that “I feel so much delighted for the successful launch of the Photonics Ghana group. As a group, we will contribute our quota to rekindle the interest of young Ghanaians in Photonics/Physics via practical teaching and learning. Since senior high school (SHS) education is currently freely accessible by all Ghanaians, it is our wish that the current generation would enjoy quality education than we did years back. Among the various planned projects as highlighted during the launch, the current project on top of the list, is to acquire and distribute tools such as photonics explorer kits (PEK) and Arduino kits, to all SHS in Ghana to facilitate teaching and learning. Besides being used for practical demonstrations of physics/photonics concepts, the Arduino kits can significantly contribute to the teaching/learning of fundamentals of computer programming. As you can see, this is a huge and financially demanding project and we, therefore, call upon various organizations, institutions, individuals contribute to the development of critical minds to solve our problems.”

Mr. Asamoah added that “in addition to promoting the photonics and MDP program in Ghana, the group also aims to establish a Photonics educational lab with the sole responsibility of providing photonics-based solutions in addressing everyday challenges in the region. In this regard, we welcome anyone interested in the realization of such a goal to complement our efforts. Among other things, we are also discussing with our patrons, in the main Universities in Ghana, the possibility of introducing computational Photonics, a perfect niche for us as a country, in the various institutions.”

As a step to achieving the above aims, the group, through their contributions, has already acquired and delivered PEK kits and OSA photonics kits to Ghana, the first of its kind in West Africa. Some pilot projects aimed at training undergraduate students and selected SHS teachers are currently ongoing in their affiliated Universities in Ghana.

On the aspect of finding solutions to problems currently faced by Ghana, Photonics Ghana, as part of their 2021 plans, is actively applying for grants to purchase optical spectrometer to study and develop optical techniques in addressing water pollution, engineered by illegal mining operation, by harmful chemicals and heavy metals that threatens human lives.

Photonics Ghana is strongly connected with the major Universities in Ghana namely, University of Ghana (Prof. Elvis Tiburu, Dr. Kofi Brobbey, Dr. Samuel Asampana Atarah), Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (Prof. F.K. Ampong, Dr. Akyana Britwum), University of Cape Coast (Prof. Moses Jojo Eghan, Prof. Benjamin Anderson), University of Education Winneba (Prof. Victor Antwi, Dr. Bright Ankudze), Sunyani Technical University (Mr. Iddrisu Danlard) and Ghana Communication Technology University (Dr. Kester Quist-Aphetsi).

In terms of the Photonics landscape in Africa, Ghana can boast of an established Laser and fibre-optics center situated at the University of Cape Coast. This was made known by Prof. Moses Jojo Eghan (Provost, College of Agriculture and Natural Science, University of Cape Coast Ghana) during his presentation at the launch of the Photonics Ghana. Prof Eghan recapped significant photonics-based studies and contributions that have been conducted in Ghana, which cut across the agricultural sector, air pollution, adulteration of food and medicinal items, and early/accurate detection of diseases, especially malaria.

Photonics Ghana envisaged the extension of the group to the whole of the African continent (i.e., Photonics Africa to be precise).

Finally, the group wants to take the opportunity to appeal to the Finnish immigration service to expedite the visa/resident permit application processes to allow the timely enrolment of students from the region. The group also acknowledges the efforts and the various supports received from our members, patrons and PREIN – Finnish Flagship on Photonics Research and Innovation.

For more information about Photonics Ghana, please visit Photonics Ghana website, Photonics Ghana in Linkedin and Photonics Ghana in Facebook

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