Of Nigerian Youths, Science and Creativity

Nigeria needs perhaps a massive youth project to fight a war against poverty and disease. But the youths must also have plans for the elders they are supposed to succeed. So far it has been the elders planning for the youth but I feel things need to be reversed.

According to the book, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate by Ernest L Boyer, the peak of the creative prowess of the physical scientist has been found to be around the age of 34.

In 2012 we read about the discovery of the Higgs Boson as postulated  then 45 years back by a 27-year-old Physicist Peter Higgs – so far the greatest discovery of the 21st century. Einstein was the greatest scientist of the 20th century by the age of 26 and James Clerk Maxwell became the greatest Theoretical Physicist of the 19th century by age 33 and at Cambridge University during the times of Maurice Dirac, a founder of Quantum Mechanics who influenced Peter Higgs, it used to be said that you are useless as a Theoretical Physicist after the age of 32.

Looking at Nigeria as well, Benjamin Osuntokun made his most seminal contribution to medicine at the age of 34 to be described as the worlds’ greatest Black Neuroscientist. Oladipupo Akinkugbe was already a Professor of Medicine at 35 to become the Father of African Hypertension. Sam Okoye narrowly missed the Nobel Prize for Physics for work he did in his late 20s and according to Wikipedia, Alexander Animaliu’s PHD Thesis published at 27 became, by 1983, a citation classic, having been cited more than 729 times between 1965 and 2001.  He is the only African in Physics to have earned such a record of citations, his paper being the best among the best 12 cited from the University of Cambridge in 50 years (1930–1980). It is of interest to note that four of these 12 most cited works from Cambridge have subsequently won the Nobel Prize in Physics.

However, we now have a problem of the sometimes overbearing influence of elders. Lee Smolin has explored this in the book, “The Trouble with Physics.”

If such problems exist in the U.S. then it might even be worse in Nigeria. Our youths, scientists and engineers in Nigeria’s various universities and research institutes are perhaps not getting enough of the research resources. It seems it’s a generational thing and you have to wait until it’s your “Turn” especially in this present Nigeria where our academics do not want to retire at 70 years.

Perhaps the youth have to do a lot of waiting before they can lay their hands on significant resources allocated to their departments or faculties.

I do hope with time we would channel more of our resources towards creativity and productivity of our youth including our Junior Engineers, Technicians  and Scientists (JETS) Clubs in Nigerian secondary schools.

Written by
Augustine Togonu-Bickersteth
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