Fifth African School on Electronic Structure Methods and Application (ASESMA-2018)

The ASESMA school was hosted this year by the Addis Ababa Science and Technology University (AASTU), in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa.  

ASESMA is a bi-annual two week school, that brings together students from all countries of Africa, and is hosted in a different African country every year. The school is led by Richard Martin, one of the most influential figures in the field of electronic structure modelling, who infused everyone during the conference with his energy and dynamism.  

The school was a tremendous success in terms of deliverability to the students, but most importantly it was an intense experience at the human level in which new friendships were made, bridges established across disciplines, and projects started, that will last beyond the scope of the school.  

During the first week of the school, the students were delivered a teaching of the highest quality. Starting with the basics, such as plane wave representation, k-points, the concept of Brillouin zone, all the way up to the most complex concepts of solid-state physics, such as the GW method, Quantum Monte Carlo approaches, and extensions of DFT, such as DFT+U. The schedule was very intense! The teaching started at 8:30 every morning and finished at 6pm. However, the fun did not stop at this point as after dinner, talks were given on a variety of topics, such as the design via ab initio of new drugs against Malaria. 

Group discussions were also held in the evening, such as on how to improve the representation of women in science, a discussion which extended rapidly to the role of minorities and how the working conditions in science can be improved.  

Thanks to TYC sponsorship, we offered a set of lectures on extensions of DFT, and limiting cases when things go wrong, such as for superconductors or correlated thermo-electric materials. We offered to the students a project that aimed at designing eco-friendly new materials that convert heat to electricity, a very handy property!  

We applied the density functional theory and its application to copper sulphides, and the students realised very fast how many problems can arise when applying numerical methods to challenging problems! Headaches such as compilation, running on an HPC, convergence issues and mistakes in entering the coordinates, were all part of the game. The students however performed very well and developed a team approach, all of them were able to reach the point of making a theoretical prediction for the optimal doping of the copper sulphide material, a suggestion taken over by chemists at QMUL (Prof Reece’s team) who synthesized this material.  

As PhD students, it was a tremendous experience that gave us the opportunity to disseminate the skills we have acquired through the CANES Centre for Doctoral Training. Moreover, thanks to their sponsorship, we have left ASESMA with new colleagues and friends from 14 African nations as well as being introduced to many new ideas and techniques that we had not been exposed to before. It has left us with a newfound understanding of the extent to which electronic structure theory continues to inspire scientists from all over the world.  

The local culture was not forgotten, with a trip to the National History Museum, that hosts the famous Lucy, our common ancestor, to the famous churches of Lalibela, one of the UNESCO heritage sites, not far from the capital.  

Projects with several of the students were set and will be carried out in the future and bridge TYC with Ethiopia, on the topic of new thermoelectric systems. 

Fig 1: The students who took on the project on thermoelectrics, and presented their results at the end of the school. Teaching assistants: Carla Lupo (centre), Evan Sheridan, second row, third from the left), and teacher (Cedric Weber, last row, right). Addis Ababa Science and Technology University (AASTU)

Fig.2: Addis Ababa news channel interviewing the teachers and teaching assistants

Fig.3: Lalibela’s church, carved in stone in the 12th century

Fig 4: Lalibela market

Fig. 5: Women in STEM



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