A bright collaboration – Two visiting researchers from Sudan at l’X
École Polytechnique’s Irradiated Solids Laboratory (LSI) welcomed two Sudanese physicists, Fatema Mohamed from the University of Khartoum, and Maram Ali Ahmed, from the National Ribat University and the Al-Neelain University, for a three-month research visit with the laboratory’s theoretical spectroscopy group. Their presence on campus allowed the two female researchers to discover and train in theoretical methods developed at the Irradiated Solids Laboratory and to add a new perspective on shared scientific challenges.
The visit of the two Sudanese physicists occurred in the context of a collaboration initiated by Matteo Gatti, a researcher at the CNRS and École Polytechnique (LSI), and eight young researchers from six different countries in Africa. The group met during the pan-African summer school ASESMA1 (African School on Electronic Structure Methods and Applications) in 2021 and has since worked on a joint research project centered on the simulation of materials' electronic and optical properties. Designed to foster a collaborative pan-African network for research on the electronic structure of materials, ASESMA has brought together over 200 participants from countries situated in Sub-Saharan Africa since 2008.
Supporting the scientific cooperation between France and Sudan, the French embassy in Sudan and the Institut français of Sudan made Fatema’s and Maram’s research visit at École Polytechnique possible.
Working alongside the Irradiated Solids Laboratory’s research group, both physicists had the opportunity to experiment with several of the numerous practical applications of the electronic structure theory2: spectroscopy at the synchrotron SOLEIL, microscopy at the laboratory of Solid-State Physics of Université Paris-Saclay, photovoltaics at IPVF (Institut Photovoltaïque d'Île-de-France), and conservation of cultural heritage at the Research Center for Conservation Science of the National Museum of Natural History (CRC - Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle).
Fatema and Maram have inspired the researchers they worked with in France through their experiences and brilliant track records. As research is a collective endeavor, Matteo Gatti emphasizes the importance of overcoming the barrier of scientific isolation, which remains a real challenge for researchers located in Africa: “Despite many difficulties, high-level research in theoretical physics is possible in Africa, and collaborations with African colleagues can be very fruitful for both parties. We tackle the same challenges (e.g., the design of new materials for renewable energies) and pursue the same scientific goals, in particular, the development of efficient theoretical methods with low computational requirements. There is no need for expensive equipment to work together: An internet connection is sufficient and enables us also to use a computing center based in Italy for our simulations.”
While in France, both Sudanese researchers also benefited from the opportunity to attend a summer school in Aussois, focused on the electronic structure theory for physics and chemistry, to explore new theories.
École Polytechnique’s Irradiated Solids Laboratory will pursue its collaboration with Fatema and Maram on new topics identified during their stay. In addition, the two physicists will make good use of their experience to offer a new course on advanced theoretical methods, based on a Mooc “Density Functional Theory”3 designed by École Polytechnique’s Irradiated Solids Laboratory, for master and PhD students at the University of Khartoum and Al-Neelain University.
In 2023, Fatema Mohamed will participate in the EuroTech Postdoc2 program and pursue her postdoctoral studies on the optical properties of new low-dimensional materials under co-supervision at École Polytechnique (LSI) and École Polytechnique Fédéral de Lausanne (EPFL). The next ASESMA edition will take place at the East African Institute for Fundamental Research4 in Kigali (Rwanda) soon. Altogether, plenty of opportunities for new collaborations with African researchers.
2 You can discover one of LSI’s numerous research projects here