Njukeng Jetro Nkengafac, PhD in Chemistry, at the University of Buea-Cameroon. She is Head of Research at the Agricultural Research Institute for Development in Cameroon. She is one of the beneficiaries of the SciencebyWoman program who is currently developing her research at the Donostia International Physics Center , with the support of Diputación Foral de Guipúzcoa . Its work tries to evaluate the properties of natural rubber / organic waste composite materials. The aim is to reduce the dependence on oil-based fillers such as black coal and also to give value to agricultural waste.
In these days of coronavirus, she says this situation is hampering her research. “I can no longer conduct experiments in the lab.” Yet she wastes no time. “I work from home to analyze the data I had measured and review the literature in my subject area. This review will improve my knowledge of the subject with up-to-date information. In addition, she says she has contact with her online tutor.
She believes that the measures being taken are appropriate because they will help stop the spread of the virus. Although she confesses: “I am afraid of the speed with which people are infected and the nature of the virus makes me think that everyone will be infected”.
What encouraged you to pursue a scientific career?
My dream in life had always been to improve the quality of life in my community. To find ways to make misery disappear. I discovered that pursuing a career in science would allow me to realize some dreams.
Have you felt supported throughout your career?
I have had a lot of family support, which is essential for a married woman like me. This is because due to work needs I had to stay away for periods and my family has always been there to cover my absence. I was also fortunate to have some internationally sponsored scholarships that helped me improve my career.
Do you feel that being a woman has made it harder for you? In what way?
Being a woman has made it harder for me. I couldn’t pursue my studies directly like my male colleagues. I had to turn down scholarship offers that forced me to stay away from my country for years because, as a woman, I had to take care of my family. In addition, some of my research activities could not be carried out as planned because, as a pregnant woman, there are risks involved in certain activities. In general, in the scientific community, women are seen as weak and often considered as unfit to carry out these activities. I have to do ‘extra miles’ to prove that “I can do it”.
How do you think your work can help your research area?
My work on the use of organic waste as landfill for rubber nanocomposite materials will reduce the dependence on oil-based landfills, as well as valorize the agricultural waste that is often abandoned. This will lead to the production of “new materials” with better properties.
What do you expect from your stay in Spain?
This is a new experience for me, especially with the crisis we are living in. From a cultural, social and scientific point of view I will learn a lot. Scientifically, I will understand the operation of the laboratory equipment used for the characterization of raw natural rubber and its compounds.
It is worth mentioning here that natural rubber is used in the manufacture of thousands of items and is still irreplaceable in the manufacture of tyres for heavy vehicles and items for medical and paramedical use.
The much-needed latex gloves now are made of natural rubber. I look forward to operating the equipment and analyzing and interpreting the data generated.
If you wish to add anything, you may do so.
I am very grateful to the Women for Africa Foundation for this scholarship opportunity that will help me improve my career and help many African women scientists. I salute their efforts to lift us up and catalyze an important “chain reaction”. I will come back and impact my knowledge on others.