A Sad but True Picture of Science in Nigeria
Scientists and engineers in Nigeria can solve the daily problems of the common and every day Nigerian only if they are passionately interested in science and in finding solutions to the problems Nigerians face everyday.
Nigeria can boast of having a good number of its citizens with master and doctorate degrees in sciences and engineering but I am afraid this has not resulted to a significant number of scientific or engineering solutions to the many and most often simple scientific and engineering problems in Nigeria.
The reason of this disconnection is not far-fetched. Science education in Nigeria is theoretical. Practical knowledge is scarce, and to make things worse there is a drought of passionate interest in science especially as a tool to solve individual and national problems.
However few scientist and engineers have exceptionally distinguished themselves. They are either people with Nigerian education but of innate scientific minds with out-of-classroom education (biographies of great Scientists and inventors, science television documentaries, and science fiction novels and movies) or people with education from the US, Japan, Germany and other research and technology driven countries.
These set of scientists and engineers can be easily identified by their creative, innovative and practical approach to solving problems.
An Everyday Laboratory Problem
In Chemistry Advance Lab, Sheda Science and Technology Complex (SheSTCo), where I did my undergraduate industrial training (IT), I experienced a problem when carrying out a suction filtration. The mini vacuum pump broke down and it took me a longer time to filter my sample. The lab avoided procedures that required the use of vacuum until the pump was replaced.
I experienced another Vacuum pump breakdown again in Chemistry Post Graduate Lab, Nasarawa State University, Keffi (NSUK) where I did my postgraduate bench work. A new mini vacuum pump (0.17hp, 23L/min, 600mmHg) attached to the rotary evaporator in the lab, after working for few days broke down during a solvent recovery process.
This was a big problem because not only were other undergraduate and post-graduate students waiting to use this pump for their research work, it was discovered that the bench work at hand needed a higher quality pump that can run continuously for 48 hours at least. This meant more expenses and time loss.
A Professor in the Department of Chemistry in NSUK saw a problem that needed a quick, affordable and long-term solution and he came up with one. He designed an affordable water-vacuum pump from a continuous-duty water-pump (0.5hp, 42L/min) and a device called Aspirator. The construction was done with the service of a plumber. The equipment was tested and after a little modification, it started working perfectly.
Problem Solved Through Innovation
The water pump connected to the plastic drum pumps water from the drum up the PCV pipe and through the aspirator. The volume of water from the pump that passes through the aspirator is reduced by diverting some volume through an adjoining pipe, which can be connected to a condenser in a Soxhlet extractor and a rotary evaporator.
The valve connected to the adjoining pipe can be used to control this volume of water. The aspirator has two outlets: one returns water back into the drum while the other sucks in air. The outlet that sucks in air produces the required vacuum needed for the solvent recovery process when connected a rotary evaporator by means of the Venturi Effect.
This equipment can run for 24 hours for days and not breakdown. On the long run, it is more cost-effective when compared to buying a vacuum pump of like capacity. It can also provide vacuum for more than one apparatus at the sometime.
This kind of response to problems in our immediate environment and our daily life has in no doubt lead to the rapid development of many nations. Nigerian engineers and scientists especially the younger generation should have a change of mentality, ideology and attitude toward science.
Nigerian and other Africans should imbibe a Do-It-Yourself culture. We should stop paying for goods and services we can produce by ourselves. We should stop waiting for Europe and America to solve our problem for us.