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Tributes to Prof. Samuel E. Okoye February 24, 2010

Posted by ASTRO Section Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO) , add a comment

from Charles McGruder


The news of the death of Prof. S. E. Okoye on 18th November, 2009 was received with shock by the staff of the department, especially by those who passed through him as students and those who were his colleagues.

Professor Okoye joined the services of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1970 as an Associate professor of physics and was promoted to full Professor in 1976. He became the Head of Department of Physics during 1978-1981. it was during his tenure as Head of Department that the name of the Department was changed from Physics to Physics and Astronomy. It was also during this period that he formed the Astrophysics Research Group that later metamorphosed into the Space Research Group.

Professor Okoye trained a number of postgraduate students some of whom are now Professor in the University of Nigeria and other Nigeria Universities. As a world renowned Professor, he has left indelible marks in the annals of the history of the department.

On behalf of the staff of the Department of Physics and Astronomy I send our condolences to the bereaved family and wish his soul eternal rest in perfect peace.


Losing a loved one is probably one of the most difficult feelings any human being can experience, so much more if it is a parent. No words can express how I feel right now.

How do you come to terms with the loss of your beloved father? How do you find happiness again? How do you move forward despite your aching heart, emptiness and sadness? It’s like I’m in the midst of a nightmare that doesn’t disappear when I wake up. However, deep down I can still feel my father’s presence ….his voice, his laughter, his wits…. His spirit still lives.

Dad taught me many things. Most importantly, I learnt from him how to live and cope with the harsh and difficult challenges in life. On numerous occasions, he told me to always “aim for the stars and you will reach the skies…. Aim for the moon and you will likely reach the stars”.

Each time I remember that quote, it serves as a source of motivation to always strive to be the best in whatever I do.

Dad was very meticulous and organized. He cared very much for his family and would very often inconvenience himself so that his children would enjoy the best things of life. He was kind, considerate and compassionate.

I also came to realize that the most important thing that daddy had was us, his family.

Dad was a great source of inspiration, not only to his children or his family but to many who came across him one way or the other. He strove to educate others in the hope that they opened their minds to new possibilities.

He was a voracious reader. He invested a lot of his funds on books. He had a library of books covering various disciplines from Astronomy to Bio-technology, Economics, Literature, Biology, Politics and Medicine.

Dad, you exhibited great courage, resilience and strength through the numerous battles and difficult challenges you went through. The race is finally over and now you have gone to rest in the bosom of our Lord.

Adieu Daddy…… I will miss you very much.


So much more than a Dad

To those who knew him he was “Sam”,

To many others he was “Professor Okoye”,

To his siblings and relatives he was “Akalaka”

To me and three others he was “DAD”

He was the biggest man I have ever known; or ever will.

He traveled his allotted time on Earth with energy,

Courage, determination and faith that is so rare in most individuals

He was a true hero.

Daddy was kind, caring and generous

He was also my friend

On the last day we spent together, we spoke about our plans for the future. Things we could and should do and ho we would do them.

Ala, he was called back home.

Although aged 70, I think we lost dad in his prime.

For he so much wanted to do

Daddy is touted for being Africa’s foremost black astrophysicist. But his greatest achievement was not his qualification

Rather his sheer bravery and willpower

Like the Leo sign he was, Daddy was a Lion

He swam seas and maneuvered oceans full of sharks and whales

Yet, he still emerged at the other side of the water.

Let us, therefore, not just mourn the absence of the flame,

But also celebrate how brightly it burned.

I love and miss you terribly, daddy!

May our good Lord grant you everlasting peace

Amy Bobo

IAU Symposium No. 277 – The Context for an Astrophysics Meeting in Burkina Faso February 10, 2010

Posted by ASTRO Section Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO) , add a comment

by Claude Carignan

On February 2nd 2010, the First Announcement for IAU Symposium No, 277 (Tracing the Ancestry of Galaxies – on the Land of our Ancestors) to be held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso on December 13-17, 2010, was sent.

While enthusiastic responses were received, a message was also suggesting that we were organizing “scientific tourism” in Africa and even one department had already decided not to let their students and post-docs attend the conference. It was in fact a good thing that this person came forward since it gives us the opportunity to put this meeting in context.

As far as the science goes, I think the scientific rationale given speak for itself (see www.iaus277.org )

But the question to answer is why hold such a meeting in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, which on the Human Resources Index  (HDI) of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is classified 177/182 countries.

see: http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2009_EN_Summary.pdf

In fact, five years ago, I was asked (I didn’t get the idea, myself) by the Minister of Education and Research in Burkina Faso (who got his degree at the Université de Montréal) if I would like to come and set up an Astrophysics program at the Université de Ouagadougou that would eventually become a center of Excellence that could deserve the Western Africa sub-region. This is an approach now used in many fields. Since resources are limited, the idea is not to develop departments of everything everywhere but to develop a new research activity in one country that could then deserve the whole sub-region.

We define the program in 2006 and the Science Council of the University accepted it at the beginning of 2007. I got great support from my University in Montréal. However, one of the problems with teaching sciences in Africa is that usually the level of the courses is OK (most of the faculties get their formation in Europe) but the labs are empty. So we thought that if we were going to set up a program, we would also build a small Observatory (25cm + CCD + appropriate filters and computers) for teaching purposes such that the practical work could be done on that telescope.

The first undergraduate class was given at the end of 2007 to ~100 students and the teaching Observatory was inaugurated by the Prime Minister on November 26, 2007: http://astro.univ-ouaga.org/. The first graduate course (Msc) was given at the beginning of 2009 to ~20 students. A full graduate program with 8 courses has been set up. The idea is to provide (with the help of many colleagues from around the world) the teaching for 4-5 years while we are forming 4 Burkinabè PhD (2 have started in Montréal, 1 will be going this year to Université de Provence and hopefully another one to South Africa) that will then take over the program once their degree will be completed (they are assure to get a position at the University de Ouagadougou).

While data mining allows to get good data sets for thesis even when you don’t possess your own telescope, with the Marseille people, we submitted a project to the OAMP in order to move the Marly telescope (EROS project) from Chile to Burkina Faso. It was accepted in December 2008 and the Marly telescope was put in crates last October in La Silla. It left Valparaiso on October 31st, arrived in Tema, Ghana on December 15 and the container was unloaded last Friday in Ouagadougou. With the help of many people (especially UdeM, LAM & OHP people) we hope to have the refurbished telescope operational end of 2011. Collaborators from the LAM and the LAE (Laboratoire d’Astrophysique Expérimentale in Montréal) will provide state-of-the-art instrumentation. This will help forming the students in BF and not loosing them to northern countries, which often happens when they get their formation overseas. We are in the final stages of the drawings and are getting help from the World Bank to build the infrastructures. The only money missing is for the solar energy power and the geothermal air-cooling demanding much less power than the conventional systems (a class of engineers is working on the project in Montréal). Hopefully, we’ll soon find the money for this part.

The main reason to hold the meeting here is to mark the beginning of Astrophysics in Burkina Faso and the construction of the Research Observatory. For the people here, to receive 200-250 among the best Astrophysicists in the world is a great motivation. Parallel to the scientific meetings we are also organizing, during the week of the conference, public talks for the students, special workshops for secondary school students and Astronomical Exhibitions in a central location.

I hope this helps to put this meeting in the context of the project initiated 5 years ago.