‘Machine learning will touch everybody’s life’



Winners of an essay competition organised by the Science Communication Hub Nigeria (SciComNigeria) have been urged to pursue their careers in various fields of science. ABDULSALAM MAHMUD reports.

Background

The trio of Adejumobi Peace Adetayo, Adaukwu Emmanuella Alaribe, and Ahaiwe Godlyn, have emerged winners of the maiden National Life Sciences Competition (NLSC) for Nigerian secondary schools.

They are students of George Green Baptist College, in Oyo state; Redeemer’s High School, in Ogun state; and International School, University of Lagos (UniLag), in Lagos state; respectively.

Aside a certificate of recognition, they will receive a cash prize of N20,000; N30,000 and N50,000 respectively for emerging winners in the essay competition.

The competition was organised by the Science Communication Hub Nigeria (SciComNigeria), in conjunction with Teaching and Research in Natural Sciences for Development (TReND) in Africa, and supported by the Physiological Society of United Kingdom (UK).

NLSC is aimed at inspiring and motivating secondary school students across the country to develop genuine interest in life sciences, life science courses in the university, and eventually take up careers in science fields generally.

Godlyn garnered a score of 88.6 per cent to beat his female co-contestants, Alaribe and Adetayo, to emerge champion of the competition. While Alaribe, who scored 83.9 percent, came second, Adetayo clinched the third position having scored 81.1 per cent.

They were announced as winners of the NLSC at a virtual award presentation ceremony on Tuesday.

Pursue careers in Science

Before the SciComNigeria team, organisers of the event had unveiled names of the prize winners.  Some guest speakers and experts advised the lucky winners to remain focused and pursue careers in the field of science.

In their separate talks during the event streamed live on Facebook and YouTube platforms, they underscored the importance of science towards the socio-economic development of any nation.

Veritable tool for development

According to Dr. Rose Maxwell Gidado, one of the speakers, since science is a veritable tool for attaining national development; it is extremely important that upcoming scientists and science students in secondary schools understand the problems and challenges hindering scientific development in the country.

“This include the myths, fallacies and controversies on scientific innovations, like the case of the genetically-modified organisms (GMOs),” she said, before adding that, “but, despite the controversy, GMO was invented to create better, healthier and nutritious foods, while also developing good varieties of crops that will go a long way to guaranteeing food security.”

Dr. Gidado, who is the Deputy Director, Department of Agricultural Biotechnology, at the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) in Abuja, also stressed the need for massive science communication in the media, so as to help dispel wrong public perceptions about science.

She observed that science provides a new social environment, with which an ambitious person can easily earn recognition through displaying his or her uncommon research capacity and innovation talents in various scientific fields.

While urging organisers of the competition to continue grooming students with flair for science, Gidado expressed delight that two of the winners are young, brilliant and potential female scientists.

 “Having female students as part of the winners is an eloquent testimony to the importance and power of the girl-child education, especially for our dear country,” she said.

Be passionate, set goals

On his part, another erudite speaker, Professor Isa Husseini Marte, who is the Commissioner of Higher Education in Borno state, emphasised the need for the winners and other students to be passionate, hardworking and set lofty goals, if they desire to become world-class scientists or professionals in other science fields in future.

Marte, a professor of Pharmacology, also advised them to have role models and mentors they will look up to for sound tutelage and professional guidance.

While noting that scientists in the last century, have transformed the universe by helping to fast-track development globally, the Borno state higher education commissioner, said, “It is paramount for you to have role models and mentors. But the most important thing and our greatest expectation on you is that you eventually achieve greater scientific feats, more than what your mentors and role models achieved.”

Machine learning, new electricity

In a career talk entitled, “Machine Learning: The New Electricity,” Dr. Ali Maina Bukar, a researcher in Manchester, UK, said machine learning, which is now a buzz word in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) world, is the study of computing algorithm, whereby electronic gadgets and various types of machines learn to execute tasks by themselves.

This, he said, is as a result of the huge amount of data available to them for speedy analysis and processing.

Dr. Maina, who is also the Director of SciComNigeria, explained that machine learning is used in detecting tumors in images, and the areas affected by tumors after Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans by doctors and other health personnel.

 “It is also used in biometric for facial recognition and for security purposes. Machine learning can look at mails in our mailbox and detect whether the messages are sent by scammers. Google today uses machine learning to select and predict accurate texts for someone typing on a phone or computer system. Machine learning is also used for translating an audio from one international language to another,” he said.

Maina, who said proficiency is needed in mathematics and computer programming by students who aspire to become a machine learning experts, again added, “Google maps, which are used for navigation, is assisted by machine learning. So, machine learning is going to be the new electricity that will touch everybody’s life, because it is applicable to every field.”

Degree in science reporting needless

A freelance science journalist, Mr. Abdullahi Tsanni, in his pep talk, pointed out that no university degree or certificate is required for anyone to practice science journalism.

Tsanni, who is the Communication Coordinator for the Science Hub, said, “There is no need for you to have a degree in science communication, journalism or mass communication before you report about science, or practice science journalism. What is important is your ability to write and report on science and science-based issues. In other words, your skill, craft or writing talent is crucial.”

He admitted that science reporters are continuously playing a great role in providing and disseminating factual information on the COVID-19 pandemic, amid misinformation and fake news about the scourge.

Who Becomes a Doctor?

A senior registrar at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), in Oyo state, Dr. Adeniran Muibat, dispelled the erroneous belief that only brilliant persons become doctors, saying: “That is far from reality.”

Dr Muibat, in her presentation on “Medicine as a Career in Life Sciences,” said, “In Medicine, what is required is dedication and focus. Even if one is brilliant, but is not focused, one may end up quitting the profession at the end of the day. And as a doctor, sometimes your patient may not be in need of drugs, but your psychotherapy to heal and cure them from whatever kind of sickness. Hence, there is need for doctors to be warm, friendly and welcoming towards their patients.”

Study role models’ biographies

Maina meanwhile encouraged the essay competition winners to imbibe the spirit of perseverance as future scientists.

“Every invention recorded by scientists in the annals of history was facilitated by perseverance, especially on the part of the scientists. Successful inventors, who are also scientists, have always been persistent and hardworking,” Maina, also a researcher at the University of Sussex, UK, said.

He advised the three essay champions to meticulously study the biographies of their role models and mentors in order to learn from their success stories and challenges as well.

We’ll Pursue Our Dreams

In short remarks, the emerging winners, who were all visibly excited, dedicated the awards to their parents, teachers and schools.

They commended Science Communication Hub Nigeria for organizing the competition, while assuring that they would not relent in pursuing their dreams of becoming scientists.

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