Inspiring African Modellers

In January 2015, Cedric Weber travelled to South Africa to teach at the African School series on Electronic Structure Methods and Applications (ASESMA), a biennial event with an emphasis on computational methods for practical calculations. Click here to read our previous story. Now back in London, he reports here on his experiences.

“The ASESMA school was a tremendous success, both in terms of deliverable benefits for the students involved, but most importantly as an experience at the human level. It was intense: new friendships were made, and projects were set up which will be extended far beyond the scope of the school. 

During the first week students took a series of classes from several European-based researchers. Starting with the basics, such as plane wave representation, k-points, and the Brillouin zone concept, all the way to the most complex concepts of solid state physics, such as the GW method, Quantum Monte Carlo approaches, dynamical mean field theory and many body methods, students were received teaching of the highest quality.

The schedule was very hectic! Teaching started at 8:30 every morning, and finished at 6pm: but the fun didn’t stop there – after dinner talks on a variety of topics were given, for example on how to integrate students into industry, by Glenn Jones, from Johnson Matthey. He gave a brilliant talk on how density functional theory is used for catalysis at the industrial level.

Group discussions were also held in the evening. One of them was on how to improve the representation of women in science, a discussion which extended rapidly to the role of minorities and how to improve working conditions in science. 

I puzzled the students with my set of lectures on extensions of DFT, and limiting cases when things go wrong, such as for superconductors. It got them challenging their understanding of band theory, and led to a long series of questions. It ended with the role of Hund’s rule in molecules, a topic of interest relating to quantum entanglement in spin transitions in molecular systems.

We offered the students a choice of scientific research projects, which they could work on during the second week. All of them were challenging and presented the students many headaches. I suggested a project on exploring the quantum properties of the heme molecule (part of haemoglobin), a project very much related to my recent scientific interests.

Click here to read Cedric’s TYC research highlight on the heme molecule.

To sum up – this was a brilliant and worthwhile experience that I would recommend to anyone. I hope I get to see African and my friends there again.”

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