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The best scientist in Lesotho

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ROMA – AN international organisation, AD Scientific Index, just ranked the National University of Lesotho (NUL)’s Professor, Heilemichael Alemu, the best scientist in Lesotho.

Professor Alemu is leading, not just in Physical Sciences, but in all sciences including Applied Sciences, Social and Human Sciences, and others. In addition to ranking universities all over the world, the AD Scientific Index ranks individual scientists in their university, country, region and the world.

Professor Alemu has been a scholar in Ethiopia, Germany, United Kingdom and Austria but he decided to settle in Lesotho in 1998 where he continued to pursue his research in Electrochemistry, Electroanalytical Chemistry, and Material Science to this day at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Technology.

Widely published, here is how he is ranked according to the index: https://www.adscientificindex.com/?country_code=ls

It is not by surprise that the Index, which considers a scientist’s overall work and its influence over the past five years, has found Professor Alemu taking the lead. Those who know him will attest to the fact that he combines brilliance and hard work.

“I came to Lesotho in September, 1998, a month before the political upheavals,” he introduced his adventures into the Mountain Kingdom. No doubt his (the adventure) was a baptism of fire. Just a month after arriving at the NUL, the country descended into political chaos and Maseru was burnt down.

But he remained optimistic. He had seen and heard worse things happening all over the world which came to pass. In time, he settled and started pursuing his research interests in probably one of the least funded universities in Africa, which, nonetheless, punches above its weight.

His research interests are mainly in the areas of Physical Electrochemistry in the studies of thermodynamic properties of ions and electrons in between two immiscible electrolyte solutions (liquid/liquid electrochemistry).

His interests are also Electrocatalysis of amorphous metals for hydrogen evolution reactions, Electroanalytical Chemistry, Material Science (synthesis, characterisation and applications of nan-materials), and Antioxidant Properties/Capacities of Medicinal Plants.

Let’s demystify these areas of research a little bit so you can appreciate the problems he has to deal with. Although his work is too complex, we will make simple examples so you can have an idea.
Let’s suppose you have the legendary oil and water mixture (immiscible phases). One of the most famous statements about oil and water is that “they don’t mix.”

The reason is not so much that water molecules “hate” oil molecules or vice-versa. The reason is that water molecules are more comfortable hanging around each other than hanging with “strange” oil molecules and vice-versa.

Now, suppose you get some sodium ions (could be from common salt or sodium chloride), in a container that has both oil and water and you shake and allow the mixture to settle. Water will separate from oil and after some time, you are going to find all of the sodium ions in the water side.

Again, sodium ions do not necessarily “hate” oil, they are just comfortable around water molecules and water molecules love them—too. In fact, every time a sodium ion finds itself in water, water molecules come and surround the ion.

“That’s the process we call solvation and the energy between the ions and water molecules is called solvation energy,” the professor said.

And here comes a problem. What if you want to have these sodium ions cross the boundary from the water side into the oil side? Remember they “prefer” to be in the water phase. So you will need to bring a bit of force to get them into the phase in which they are not that “comfortable.” That force can come in the form of electricity.

“If you apply enough potential,” Prof said, “these ions can move from the water phase to the oil phase. However, if you reduce the potential, they can actually come back to the water phase, their preferred position.”

Why is studying this important? According to Professor Alemu, “transfer of ions through phase boundaries is common in many natural and man-made systems”.

“We can improve those systems if we understand them better,” he said.

Think about how this science can be used in the applied area of Catalysis. You will recall that a catalyst is that substance which speeds up a chemical reaction. Suppose you have substance A in the water side and substance B in the oil side. These two can react if they are brought together.

First you can make sure A binds itself to a catalyst, which is also on the water side. Then you can apply electricity to move the catalyst from the water side to the oil side where B now reacts with A.

“You want to make sure that the catalyst doesn’t hold too tight to A such that when time comes for A to meet B, the catalyst doesn’t “want” to release A,” he said.

Professor Alemu has also explored the areas of amorphous metals which act as catalysts that split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. He has also explored Electro-Analytical Chemistry which is used in the field of analysis and measurements of environmental samples.

“We use Electro-Chemistry either to identify certain substances or to quantify them.”

In fact, many modern measuring machines are based on Electroanalytical Techniques. Looking back after 23 years at NUL, Professor Alemu said he is proud to have trained so many students, most of whom got absorbed in various scientific fields around the world.

He also introduced a Master’s programme in Chemistry and a highly successful Chemical Technology programme at NUL.

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Innovation

Retracing oral history

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ROMA – MOHOSHO Pofane, who is the founder of the NUL Writers’ Club, that seeks to ignite the writing passion in students, is working on his second book after publishing his first one in 2021.

Pofane is a Mosotho man born in Ha-Mokhehle in Teya-Teyaneng, Berea.

He holds a BA in Development Studies and English Language and is currently in the fourth year of his second degree in LLB at the National University of Lesotho.

“My passion for writing started at a very young age,” Pofane says.

“I used to have a small journal while growing up. I would put every thought that came into my mind in that journal as articles,” he says.

“At one time, I submitted my articles to one of the well-known local newspapers for publication, but sadly, they got rejected because I was “too young””.

Although rejection was somewhat painful, this passionate writer says he was not discouraged from writing because, in 2016, he began writing the manuscript for his first book which was published in February 2021 with the tittle ‘Getting Played’.

Its conception was metered with self-doubt coupled with the traumatic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, amid all that uncertainty, he published a self-help book about dating, selling over 1000 copies on online platforms and thousands of others in bookstores.

How is the reception of the first book from people?

“People love the book: “Getting Played,” literally! I still receive random texts from people who purchased the book to relay how it has helped them with their relationships. I get flushed with triumph whenever I receive such reviews. To contribute to research and literature, to be able to add positivity and value to someone’s life by helping them navigate their relationship.”

We must not hasten to realise that relationships form the essence of interaction. If we have good relations, we automatically become a better society.

Being the founder of the NUL Writers’ Club tells how passionate Pofane is about writing.

No wonder he has already published his second book: “The Identity of Amahlubi – Matebele in Lesotho: Connecting the Pieces” on November 10, 2022.

While the first book was a “Relationship” book, the second one is more of an academic book that can help history enthusiasts.

This ardent writer says he drew inspiration for the second book from Professor Nqosa Mahao’s book titled “Bakhoele: Bafokeng ba ’Mantsukunyane oa Kata-Sefiri”.

“Apart from this book, I am a very prying and inquisitive person,” Pofane says.

“My whole life, I have been trying to establish my cultural identity to have a sense of belonging and be content with who I am,” he says.

“However, my quest was occasionally met with loose endings. It was until I was browsing through social media that I came across a Facebook group of people who called themselves AmaHlubi.”
Pofane says what was ironic about this group was that it was full of Basotho people living in Lesotho.

“It was from that moment that I learned I am a Hlubi.”

He says the group consisted of very kind and loving people who instantly taught him his “Izibongo”, something which he says his great-grandparents failed to teach his elders, including himself, for many years.

Everyone in that Facebook group contributed towards filling any uncertainties within his clan, he says.

Being an inquisitive writer that he is, he decided to conduct thorough research and codify the findings into a book with their help.

The book entails a detailed genealogy of the Matebele/Hlubi clan in Lesotho. It throws some light on the forgotten historical events of the AmaHlubi tribe, who found themselves disgruntled in Lesotho following the capture and arrest of King Langalibalele I.

That is to show that oral traditions can be used to reconstruct the history of non-literate people.

In this book, he shows that although oral prose literature like legends, proverbs and songs has essential historical data, the most critical genre is the Seboko (izibongo) of the kings.

Most writers on the Seboko, like Nqosa L. M., (2011), and Nyembezi C. L., (1948), all agree that the Seboko (izibongo) is significant as a historical document.

The book seeks to be the epoch and reference point for younger and coming generations of readers and researchers by answering the following questions:

l Who are the Hlubi people?
l How did they end up in Lesotho?
l Who was/is their King?
l Why are they called Matebele in Lesotho?
l What is their cultural identity?

Be sure to get your copy of the newly published: “The Identity of Amahlubi – Matebele in Lesotho: Connecting the Pieces” as well as “Getting Played,” here: 5955 5318 and at local bookshops including Lifestyle Books Lesotho among others.

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Innovation

Lesotho’s pocket power app wins in Dubai

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ROMA – This app helps raise money online for students who are admitted for post-graduate studies in any university.

It was developed by Thato Rammoko, a National University of Lesotho (NUL) graduate in Computer Science.

This app, which captured tech minds from all over the world in Dubai is called Pocket Power, www.pocketpower.co.ls.

It was among the top 100 tech solutions, beating hundreds of other competitors from all over the world, to make it to Dubai last week.
Rammoko’s work is the first tech project from Lesotho to make it to the top 100 at the Dubai Prototypes for Humanity Expo.

The event was organised by Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC).

To make a formidable team, Rammoko teamed with joined by Takatso Kumi – one of the leaders of the NUL Innovation Hub.

Kumi is an author and a Family Leadership and Generational Wealth Management Coach who represented the Hub at the event.

What was Rammoko’s idea?

He wanted to improve access to scholarships for students who want to pursue their post-graduate studies abroad.

That is a challenge. The National Manpower Development Secretariat (NDMS) sponsors a handful of such students but that is not enough.

Sometimes it sponsors courses that do not resonate with applicants. Applying for university and getting admission abroad is quite easy.

Getting a scholarship is a mountain to climb since competition is very tight. If one is self-sponsored, currency differences can be huge, making it expensive to try.

Many of us have gone through the experience. For instance, how many of us got admitted for post-graduate studies only to find it impossible to move forward because there was no money?

Rammoko had a personal experience.

“I got admitted to the University of Essex to study Masters in Financial Technology,” he said.

“I applied for a Chevening Scholarship and I got rejected.”

He then told the university he would wait until the following year when he had sorted his finances out. He tried applying again for the same scholarship and he got rejected once more.
Competition was really tight there.

How could he finance his studies if he didn’t have a scholarship? How about from his own pocket? Eureka! That’s when the idea of Pocket Power came to be.

It would act as a crowd-funding project to encourage financing post-graduate education from our pockets when scholarship fails.

“It will be done through encouraging local and international companies to strengthen their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) because of the role they can play in giving back to the community,” he said.

Small businesses and individuals who can donate their funds to this initiative can also participate through their philanthropic activities.

Any nation that wants to escalate its rate of development like Dubai would first invest in the education of its citizens.

Pocket Power is here to do exactly that. The project is live albeit in beta stage. The platform has three students currently raising funds.

You can visit www.pocketpower.co.ls and give as little as M100 to one or more students and become a dream maker today.

All the donations are kept in a secure account and paid directly to the academic institutions to protect donors from scammers and chancers.

Donors can also give directly to the pool of funds that will be used to top up active campaigns that need a boost.

So far Pocket Power has collected over M60 000 from over 100 donors from countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Malta, South Africa and more.

Considering its potential, the project caught the attention of the organisers of Prototypes for Humanity Competition in Dubai.

Dubai is one of the fastest growing seven states of the United Arab Emirates as a global research and innovation centre.

You see this in its spectacular infrastructural designs of the future, unbelievable booming economy, and a global tourist attraction destination place.

How Dubai developed its economy in about two decades is a story for another day.

Our focus now is: What is Prototypes for Humanity Expo and how can you participate in it next year?

If you are a graduate passionate about addressing critical challenges for humanity to advance ideas for positive, social and environmental impact, this could be your turn too.

Your task is simply to apply next year.

The programme, which is done in partnership with Dubai International Finance Centre, brings together trailblazing ideas, projects, and technologies, addressing critical challenges affecting us all, and then awards the best four prototypes covering the four themes at US$25 000 (about M450 000) each that are convened to support the development of real-world solutions for a better world.

It is said to have evolved from the originally design-centric Global Grad Show exhibition.

The themes for this year, although they may change next time, were: Health, Society, Environment and Corporate Solutions.

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Innovation

Energy Research Centre shines

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ROMA – THE MSc in Sustainable Energy at the National University of Lesotho (NUL)’s Energy Research Centre (ERC) is only two years old but some are already using it as a model.

The ERC had its first graduates in September 2020, yet its achievements reach far beyond many university post-graduate programmes. It was only in 2019 when the ERC received M800 000 to revamp the young programme, that had hardly run for a year.

The funding was from UK Aid under the project: Transforming Energy Access — Learning Partnership (TEA-LP) managed by the University of Cape Town (UCT). The programme has been revamped and the incumbent cohort of first-year students will do a compulsory module on Energy Entrepreneurship.

This is not all that the current students will enjoy from the TEA-LP project. At the end of every module, a major assignment will be given. For any assignment that addresses energy access, the best performer on the assignment will be awarded a whopping M10 000.

As if this was not enough, at the end of the first semester, at least two students will get M44 000 scholarships for the rest of the year. The award will be based on performance and needs assessment of the prospecting students. The ERC recognises and rewards hard work.

“This confirms our high expectations of everything done by the ERC team,” says Leslie Ashburner, Project Manager, TEA-LP, South Africa.

Second-year research students are not forgotten, not in this programme. Two of the second-year students are recipients of the Southern African Solar Thermal Training & Demonstration Initiative (SOLTRAIN) research grants.

The grants are worth EUR2 100 (about M37 674) for research on the potential analysis of the use of solar thermal energy for the health sector and EUR700 (about M12 558) for analysis of the possibilities of using solar thermal energy in the brewing industry in Lesotho.

The primary aim of the financial support is to stimulate research work by students on solar thermal topics in order to build up knowledge and capacity in the SOLTRAIN partner countries.

These will further enhance cooperation on solar thermal issues between the NUL and SOLTRAIN. The MSc in Sustainable Energy has only had its first graduates this year. The success of the programme has exceeded all expectations, even for the most optimistic.

International energy stakeholders were able to attend during dissertation oral defence of the graduating students … thanks to Covid-19 as these were done online. It was during these presentations that one student caught the attention of a giant Belgian wind power developer, in the name of Hirundo.

Hirundo has since asked ERC to engage its students, under paid work, more like consultancy work, to assess the prospects of selling wind power to Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) — a regional market for trading electricity.

“We were really impressed by the organisation of the event, great time keeping and quality of the presentations” said Hirundo participants.

Well, the success of the ERC is largely due to its dedicated and motivated staff. Earlier this year, we reported that they were the pioneers of the lifeline tariff.

If you have forgotten what a lifeline tariff is, this is the policy that allows electricity consumers to buy the first 30 electricity units of the month at almost 75 cents. This was done to help the poorest of the poor to afford electricity.

The ERC has taken its work further to develop what is called a Pioneer Developer Refund Scheme for the utility company. Ever heard a household saying it owns an electricity transformer because it was the first to bring electricity to the village?

That household is called a Pioneer Developer. And rightfully, it must be compensated for bringing the electricity to the village at high costs. This problem has persisted since the inception of the electricity utility company. But now the ERC has come to the rescue and, soon, people fighting over the ownership of a transformer will be a thing of the past.

Due to the myriad of projects the ERC is both involved in and pursuing, it is the only unit on campus with a dedicated Project Manager. The ERC believes in its products hence it has acquired the services of one of its graduates to be the Project Manager, Matsoso Mothala.

“I honestly don’t know any other university department being so successful,” says Niklas Hayek, Development Consultant — Energy, Education & Climate Change, Germany.

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