News Overview 2016

The Next Einstein Will Come from Africa

The Robert Bosch Stiftung highlights Africa’s research potential for the first time with the Next Einstein Forum

Young Kenyan researcher Evelyn Gitau summarizes her goal succinctly: to improve the welfare of those who have not had much luck in life. The pharmacologist focuses on issues that often get shortchanged in the research world. She spends a great deal of time in African hospitals with children suffering from malaria. Gitau is a promising young researcher from Africa, which is why she was chosen as the new fellow for the Next Einstein Forum (NEF). The new forum is an initiative of the Robert Bosch Stiftung, in partnership with the African Institute for Mathematical Science. Its intention is to promote and strengthen Africa as a location for research.

As an NEF fellow, Gitau had the opportunity to appear at the Next Einstein Forum in Dakar and make contact with top researchers from around the globe, which will help advance her research on the immune reactions of cells to serious illnesses. To what extent can changes in cells be used as markers to diagnose serious illnesses? According to researchers’ estimates, approximately half of all serious infectious diseases, such as malaria, are not properly diagnosed at hospitals in Sub-Saharan Africa. Gitau returned to Kenya in 2007 after completing her doctorate in Liverpool. She made a number of other unsettling discoveries once in Kenya. For instance, her research indicates a close correlation between severe cases of malaria and severe malnutrition. Attending the forum increased her chances of tackling a major challenge: she hopes to develop affordable diagnostic tools that African clinics can use on a daily basis, which could save countless lives.

However, the Next Einstein Forum does more than just help individual researchers. It also provides a new perspective on the entire continent. Africa, which is generally associated with war, chaos, and starving children, actually has a rapidly growing community of researchers and an enormous number of young people with great potential. For now, the best and brightest still tend to move abroad, where they receive more funding for their research. As a result, the exceptional researchers in Africa and their potential solutions to humanity’s biggest problems often have no voice on the international stage. The Next Einstein Forum wants to change that. "We hope to integrate Africa into the global research and development community and to help it become a new center for research and technology," says Ingrid Wünning Tschol from the Robert Bosch Stiftung, one of the forum’s initiators. "We tell stories that haven’t been told yet."

The first Global Gathering in Dakar, Senegal, brought the best researchers together with the most important decision-makers to discuss solutions for the future. Among the attendees there were 500 invited guests from the fields of science, politics, and civil society, including heads of state, Nobel Prize winners, and research directors from major companies – to discuss solutions for the future. The fellows, who represent the young generation of African researchers, contributed their ideas to the international research community. All of this is part of a greater goal, says Wünning Tschol. “We are convinced that the next Einstein will come from Africa!”

(Eva Wolfangel, Bosch Zünder 2, 2016)
Evelyn Gitau hopes to develop affordable diagnostic tools that African clinics can use on a daily basis, which could save countless lives.