Zimbawean Scientist Wins Top Unesco-African Award!


By Tendai Kwaramba

ZIMBABWEAN Sekai Lana Tombe has won the 2013 L’Oréal-UNESCO Regional Fellowship For Women in Science which honours women scientists from across Sub-Saharan Africa for their work.

Tombe, a PhD candidate in chemistry and physics at South Africa’s University of the Western Cape, was awarded a fellowship of 15,000 Euro to contribute towards her research along with ten other winners from across the African continent.

She said the award would help her further her career.

“It will allow me to maintain my standard and level of excellence, and provide access to state-of-the-art research facilities for the successful completion of my project,” Sekai adds.

“It is a solid step towards my future career as a renewable energy scientist.”

The ambitious 27-year-old held down three jobs as a sub-warden, tutor and demonstrator at Rhodes University just to fund her undergraduate studies.

Her dedication paid off, as she completed all three degrees, including a BSc, BSc (Hons) and MSc in chemistry at Rhodes with distinction.

She was exposed to science academia at a young age, as her father was employed as a general worker in the science faculty of the University of Zimbabwe.

“By engaging with the academics at the university, my love for scientific research grew and I knew that I wanted to become a scientist. With science, you have the opportunity to make a meaningful and positive difference in society,” she said.

Passionate about giving back to the community, Sekai is involved in several community engagement projects at old age homes, preschools and libraries in disadvantaged communities in Zimbabwe.

The philanthropy forms part of the inspiration behind the research she is undertaking as part of her PhD which focuses on developing high energy conservation hybrid photovoltaic cells from cheap silicon substrates. This would reduce the cost of solar cells, making them more affordable to poorer communities.

She explains: “In developing countries such as those in sub-Saharan Africa, there are millions of economically disadvantaged rural communities living without access to electricity.

“Solar energy is a particularly attractive renewable option because it is naturally decentralised, available in excessive supply, falling steadily in cost as technology advances, immune from supply or price uncertainty and eligible for support from bilateral and multi-lateral institutions seeking to increase carbon-neutral or low-carbon energy production.

“My work’s conceptualisation is consistent with the paradigms of sustainable human development in developing countries, and presents opportunities to develop cost-effective renewable energies for rural areas.”

The first born of eight children, Sekai is very close to her family who she still lives with in Harare when she goes home. Both her parents are farmers and are very supportive of her scientific career.
When not finding new ways to harness the sun’s energy Sekai can be found cooking, sewing and, when possible, travelling.

First piloted in 2010, the L’Oréal-UNESCO fellowship is open to all women scientists up to age 40 across Sub-Saharan Africa who are working towards their PhD in all fields of science.

L’Oréal South Africa Managing Director, Bertrand de Laleu, said the chief objective of the fellowship is to increase the participation of women in the field of science.

“Women face a number of challenges in this still heavily male-dominated sector. L’Oréal seeks to assist by removing one of these hurdles, which is access to finance,” he explained.


“Not only is it anticipated that this will increase their active involvement and contribution to the sciences, but it will also enable women to positively impact social and economic progress in various ways, such as through addressing climate change and public health issues, for example.

“We believe the women we assist have the potential to make great strides in the field of science; in fact, two of the beneficiaries of our global programme have gone on to win Nobel prizes.”

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