To celebrate Black History Month 2020, an exhibition curated by Africans in STEM entitled ‘Past & Present: Black Legacies in STEM’ launches online today (5 October).

Learning about the stories and contributions of Black scientists through this project has been nothing short of enlightening and I hope it will be the same for others, especially for the young and aspiring scientists out there.

Cynthia Okoye

The new exhibition showcases the work of Black scientists from all over the world who have made – and are making – significant contributions to the field of science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM).

Profiles, posters and pictures will be featured on a publically available website (africansinstem.co.uk) and linked social media platforms, as well as on physical posters displayed in selected departments* across the University throughout the month of October.

The materials in the exhibition include a mix of historic and present figures, such as Patricia Bath (left in the image above), the late American ophthalmologist who developed the ‘Laserphaco Probe’ to vapourise cataracts, and Kenyan immunologist Faith Osier (right in the image above) who developed ‘KILchip’, a system to detect complex antibodies from individual samples.

Also featured are Black students currently at Cambridge conducting research in novel chemotherapies for a rare paediatric brain tumour, fabrication of devices for advanced information processing and generation of low-carbon electricity from photosynthetic bacteria.

The exhibition is the work of two Black researchers – PhD students Sandile Mtetwa and Cynthia Okoye who together lead Africans in STEM, a group that helps Africans involved in STEM research connect, share ideas and create collaborations.

“Stories of Black achievements in science are rarely told or often buried,” says Sandile Mtetwa, whose own research in the Department of Chemistry is on discovering new energy and sensing materials. “We wish to uncover these STEM legacies to combat the stark underrepresentation of Black people in the sciences – a phenomenon that is still characteristic of academia and enterprise.”

She adds: “Advocacy through celebration and promotion of achievements of Black people in STEM is a very good way to tackle the racial injustice that sadly prevails in the world. We see activities like ours as providing a positive ripple effect for better representation.”

The team feels they have gained much themselves from the experience of curating the exhibition, as pharmacologist Cynthia Okoye explains: “Learning about the stories and contributions of Black scientists through this project has been nothing short of enlightening and empowering and I hope it will be the same for others, especially for the young and aspiring scientists out there.”

For more information, please visit africansinstem.co.uk

*Posters will be displayed in the Departments of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering & Biotechnology, Materials Science & Metallurgy, Veterinary Science and Pharmacology throughout October. Please note that access to physical posters is restricted to departmental members as a result of COVID safety measures. All posters can also be viewed online.

Image sources:

Patricia Bath

Faith Osier


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