Science Trips – A journey through the history of science in Africa

The history of science in Africa is as vast and diverse as the continent itself, with many unique and significant contributions to global scientific knowledge.

Africa, as the cradle of humanity, has a rich history of scientific contributions going back thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians were some of the world’s first great scientists, engineers and mathematicians. They developed irrigation techniques, medicine, construction, such as the famous pyramids at Giza, astronomy and mathematics (including geometry). The Library of Alexandria, before its destruction, was a world center of scientific knowledge. The ancient Ethiopians were among the first to record observations of the stars and planets, contributing to the beginnings of astronomy. The ancient Carthaginians, in present-day Tunisia, made important advances in agriculture, such as crop rotation and irrigation systems.

The Islamic Golden Age (8th to 14th centuries) witnessed great advances in mathematics, astronomy, medicine and physics. Universities in cities like Timbuktu, Fez and Cairo have become world centers of learning. Scholars such as Ibn Khaldun, Al-Jahiz and Al-Zahrawi made important contributions.

Unfortunately, during the colonial period, African contributions to science were often ignored or suppressed altogether. However, traditional knowledge in areas such as medicine and agriculture persisted and influenced contemporary practices.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, however, African scientists have made important contributions in many fields, often overcoming challenges such as limited resources and institutional support. Notable contributions include the anthropological research of Cheikh Anta Diop, the computer science of Phillip Emeagwali, and the environmental activism of Wangari Maathai, to name just a few.

There are currently ongoing initiatives to boost scientific research in Africa, such as the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences, the Square Kilometer Array project and the Next Einstein Initiative. These efforts aim to build local scientific capacity and infrastructure, enabling African scientists to address local and global challenges while contributing to the global scientific community.

Africa has a rich history of influential scientists whose work has contributed greatly to many fields. Here are some of the prominent figures:

Sheikh Anta Diop (1923-1986)

Sheikh Anta Diop

Diop was a Senegalese historian, anthropologist, physicist and politician who studied the origins of the human race and pre-colonial African culture. Although some of his theories are contested in academic communities, he influenced thinking about Africa in pre-colonial times.

Wangari Maathai (1940-2011)


Maathai was an environmental scientist from Kenya. She was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her “contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace”. She was also the founder of the Green Belt Movement, an environmental NGO focused on tree planting, environmental conservation and women’s rights.

Philip Emeagwali (1954-present)

Philip Emeagwali

Emeagwali is a Nigerian computer scientist. He won the Gordon Bell Prize in 1989 for his work on practical applications of a Connection Machine supercomputer, one of the most powerful computational models for solving large-scale scientific problems.

Thebe Medupe (1968-present)

tebe medupe

Medupe is a South African astrophysicist and founder of Astronomy Africa, an organization that promotes science in Africa. He was also the first black South African to earn a doctorate in astrophysics.

Francis Allotey (1932-2017)

Francisco Allotey

Allotey was a Ghanaian mathematician and physicist known for his work in mathematical physics. The “Allotey formalism”, used to describe matter in outer space, is named after him.

Segenet Kelemu (1957-present)

Segenet Kelemu

Kelemu is an Ethiopian plant molecular pathologist who has worked on disease control in crops. She was the first woman from a developing country to win the L’Oréal-UNESCO Prize for Women and Science.

Quarraisha Abdool Karim (1960-present)

Quarraisha Abdool Karim

Karim is a South African epidemiologist and a world leader in HIV prevention and treatment research. His work, particularly on women’s susceptibility to HIV, has been instrumental in influencing global health policy.

From the exceptional engineering feats of Ancient Egypt to critical research in contemporary fields, Africa’s scientific heritage is as diverse and broad as the continent itself.

Quo Science Trips section sponsored by hyundai

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