The BESSY@HZB user meeting will take place at the end of June 2023. For the first time, there will be a country of honour, Kenya. Antje Vollmer, BESSY II spokesperson, tells us how this came about and why it is important to work at eye level with researchers from other countries.
Science diplomacy has long been a central theme for Antje Vollmer. She recalls that a lecture by Rolf-Dieter Heuer1 had a particular impact on her: “He spoke about the importance of CERN beyond science, and the role of large-scale research institutions for international cooperation and science diplomacy.” At BESSY II, international collaborations in this direction have been established over the years, including close contact with SESAME2. The transnational access programmes such as CALIPSOplus have also played an important role, in which, in addition to promoting the mobility of the user community, European integration has also been specifically advanced through twinning programmes3.
“CALIPSOplus launched in 2015 . To present the possibilities of European X-ray sources and to familiarise colleagues in the EU13 countries with our facilities, I travelled to 15 universities. On site, I got to know the people and their scientific structures, which was extremely enlightening for the joint collaboration.” By the end of this European programme (2021), many twinning meetings with HZB have taken place. “Independent proposals have emerged from this, and the new user groups now regularly come to BESSY II, thus also forming a seedbed for international collaboration at their university,” Antje Vollmer emphasises.
From Adlershof to Nairobi
In autumn 2022, Antje packs her suitcase and travels to Kenya. A few months earlier, she had met Lucy Ombaka, a researcher at the Technical University (TU) of Kenya, at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s annual online conference. “When online conferences increased during the pandemic, I was sceptical at first. But suddenly we were from 23 countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh, Kenya… at this annual conference and I was thrilled that we were together in one, albeit virtual, space and could exchange ideas.”
In the months following the online meeting, the two women establish contact and exchange information about research at HZB and at the Technical University of Kenya. Lucy is a group leader there and does research on hydrogen. “She visited HZB and then invited me to Nairobi. Three lectures and three tutorials in four days, that was an intensive programme. In particular, the interest, curiosity and enthusiasm I felt among the students and lecturers made me very happy. There is a strong personal commitment behind the research topics!”
Kenya is country of honour at the 2023 User Meeting
Together with Lucy, we thought about inviting students to the BESSY@HZB user meeting,” Antje says with shining eyes, “some of them even came to the Photon School in April.
At the end of June, 17 researchers from six different universities in Kenya will first spend three days at various beamlines at BESSY II and then take part in the user meeting. “I think it’s a great opportunity to advance scientific projects together and on an equal footing,” emphasises the BESSY II spokesperson. “Africa may not have a synchrotron, but it has highly motivated young scientists with whom we can share ideas and infrastructure.
More researchers from Africa
What does Antje Vollmer wish for this user meeting in 2023? “I have two wishes, she says with a smile. The first is a long-term one. It would be that Lucy’s dream comes true and that every family in Kenya has an ethanol cooking system called Koko4 in their home that runs on ethanol produced sustainably in Kenya.
My second wish is more moderate and specifically concerns the user meeting. I wish that lasting contacts are made that lead to collaborations and also that the Kenyan colleagues learn about measurement time at BESSY so that they will send measurement time requests in the future.”
Cover picture: TUKNews-Magazine Dec. 2022
1Rolf-Dieter Heuer is a German physicist and former Director General of CERN.
2SESAME is the light source in Jordan that brings together researchers from different regions and countries, even though they do not share political views.
3Twinning programmes allow scientists to participate in measurement time with an experienced user group.
This article is part of a series on our user meeting and our collaboration with our country of honour Kenya. When published, you will find further articles listed here: