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Department of Chemistry

Courtesy Tom Almeroth-Williams

As the UK marks Black History Month, two researchers from this department talk about their route to Cambridge, their inspiration and their motivation.

Dr Olalekan Popoola

Lekan, as he’s known, is working on air pollution and its impacts on human health and the environment.  He received his Bachelor and Master degrees in Nigeria, and as a PhD student here he worked on developing low-cost air quality sensors and using them in cities including London and Lagos.  Lekan is continuing this research as a postdoc in the Jones research group in the Centre for Atmospheric Science. His research is helping to revolutionise air pollution studies and deliver a cheaper option for monitoring air pollution, especially in low income countries.  In developed nations, the approach can complement existing infrastructures used by air pollution monitoring agencies and regulators.

Sandile Mtetwa

Sandile is a Gates-Cambridge scholar studying for her PhD in the Wheatley research group. She is investigating alternative energy sources that can produce and store hydrogen, and could give her home country of Zimbabwe access to cost effective solar energy.  Sandile says: “In the future, I would like to use my lab work as a foundation to start up practical and implementable energy resource projects.  My passion is to reach out to marginalized communities as well as resuscitate some industries that have been negatively impacted by high energy costs.”

Cambridge environment

Both researchers have found Cambridge to be an inspiring and supportive environment.  Lekan says: “Cambridge offers excellent research facilities and mentorship for both students and research staff.  In addition, the University fosters international collaborations both with academic and industrial partners.”

Sandile says: “Walking in the footsteps of Isaac Newton, Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking gives me confidence to pursue a PhD here.  I also have a very supportive network that includes my supervisor, academic mentor, fellow research group mates, and endless resources to help me through the challenges in my research. Sandile also has access to a rich network of other Gates-Cambridge scholars.

Black History Month

“Black History Month is an important opportunity to engage and inspire upcoming aspiring talents from my community with the opportunities which are available to them, “ says Lekan.  “For me,” says Sandile, “Black History Month at Cambridge is a reminder that we too are Cambridge. I’ve been inspired to learn about alumni like myself, in particular the international businesswoman Winnie Muriithi, who completed her PhD in Chemistry here.

You can read more about Lekan in the Spring 2018 edition of Chem@Cam magazine.

You can read more about Sandile on the department website.

A fuller version of this article, which also features other black researchers in the University, is available on the University of Cambridge website.