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Interview on Prof. Shem Wandiga, Acting Director at the Institute of Climate Change and Adaptation

Prof. S. Wandiga (R) receiving Doctorate of Science honours at Egerton University in 2013

Leading the Academic Path, 30 years On

Meet Professor Shem Oyoo Wandiga, acting Director at the Institute of Climate Change and Adaptation, College of Biological and Physical at the University of Nairobi and Chancellor at Egerton Unviversity.

What has been your greatest motivation while working and lecturing at the University of Nairobi?

My mind and my students. I realized that teaching is the only profession that allows one to continuously learn, either from his students or his books.  

I train my students to a point that I begin to be trained by them before letting them go into the world to shape it with their intellectual knowledge.

What do you ascribe to your high achieving and award-winning positions?

Working for only one institution in my life, University of Nairobi.

When did you join University of Nairobi?

In 1972, when it only had 3,000 students. There was no comparison to the present university capacity, which has over 60,000 students.

What is your role at the University?

I currently head the Institute for Climate Change and Adaptation (ICCA), as an Acting Director as well as being a professor of Chemistry

Would you brief us on what Climate Change entails?

Climate change is about how variation of climate is affecting, natural systems and society and how to deal with challenges resonating from soil, water or people. It involves assessing lessons learnt in various communities and ecosystems on impacts of climate change and how they adapt to changes as well as suggesting and testing solutions applicable ranging from one community to another. The Institute I head (ICCA), educates on how to mitigate impact of climate change through effective resource management using science and technology, for example in agriculture.

You are presently working on a research that could contribute to employment opportunities, what is it about?

The research is about how to purify large quantities of water to ensure water safety using a compound that is readily available at the Kenyan Coast.

Why water purification?

The research looks into a problem of providing quality water for use and drinking, a commodity so scarce in the rural areas of Africa. We are testing changes incorporated into Titania to make it more reactive when placed in a pot and exposed to the sun. At present solar disinfection is generally applied by putting water in a plastic bottle and placing it in the roof top. Much as this process meets its purpose, however, its effectiveness is limited due to the quantity a plastic bottle can hold and the unavailability of plastic bottles in the rural areas.


 What product will you be using from the Kenyan Coast?

We are modifying tiomin (Titanium oxide) by incorporating other metals into it. We then take a small portion of the mixed compound and incorporate it into the clay, dried and burned to high degrees. When cool the clay port with water is placed in the sun where the energy released kills the micro-organisms or reduces the metal ions. Titanium oxide acts as a catalyst in solar disinfection, thus purifying large quantities of water in a short duration.

How will your research create jobs?

We will need human resource to produce and sell clay pot vessels to the community. The clay pots will be used to store water for purification.

Having benefited from American Labour Union Airlift, which saw many students, further their education abroad, how are you contributing to scholarship opportunities?

I endlessly work to ensure students as well as staff benefit from scholarships through agreements with different universities and our institute. We presently have students undertaking various researches in many universities in Europe, USA and South Africa.

Does the Institute engage in exchange programs?

Yes, in fact, University of Uppsala is currently providing exchange programs in organic and inorganic chemistry, with a future prospect in physical chemistry. The programs have successfully seen students and lecturers benefit extensively.

You have received many awards internationally and one most recently. Please tell us about your latest appointment.

 I have been appointed Chancellor of Egerton University, where I also received a recent Doctorate of Science.

What will your new position entail?

Being a chancellor is not only about conferring degrees, but looking at the interest of the stakeholders in ensuring management is sound, resources are effectively utilized and quality of education is high. This also involves harmonizing policy and ensuring management is working together in achieving expected goals. My role is to steer the institution to achieve the higher expectation of Kenyans.

There is so much prominence on biological sciences. Is this surpassing the importance given to chemistry?

Chemistry students should not be deterred with the current limelight on biological sciences. This is because biological sciences cannot make progress unless you have proper knowledge of chemistry.

What wise words do you have for young employees?

Stay focused, develop yourself and gain global recognition in your area of expertise.

What intellectual advice can you give scholars?

For both students and lectures, carry out quality research and publish in high impact journals. If you are pursuing further education, do not only chase for titles, but gain understanding and knowledge in your field of study so as to be recognized in your profession.

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