“My Father Was The First Person To Teach Me The Multiplication Tables”, Meet An Innovator – Professor Omowunmi Sadik
Science Hero: Father
Exposure to Science
Professor Omowunmi Sadik, a distinguished scientist and innovator, developed an interest in science, thanks to her upbringing. She said “My father was the first person to teach me the multiplication tables. He also taught me how to read a clock and a host of other basic things. He emphasised the basic sciences as a pathway in science. One of my brothers, Yomi, was the first to teach me stoichiometry. He had learned this in school, and we always studied together when we were young. He loved chemistry, physics and math but did not like biology and hated to draw.”
Prof Sadik’s brother, Yomi taught her science trivia. He would rattle off things like “Why does ether disappear on your skin?” I was a very curious learner, and I asked lots of questions. Yomi became a civil engineer, and three of my siblings are medical doctors. All of my sisters are in the medical profession as doctors, nurse practitioners or nurses. One brother went into accounting. We all were encouraged to try our best and always to try to be in the top tier of our class.
The Journey to Success
Prof Sadik went on to study to obtain BSc and MSc in Chemistry at the University of Lagos, Nigeria, PhD (Chemistry) at University of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia, followed by a Postdoc at US-Environmental Protection Agency, and further fellowship at Radcliffe Fellow, Harvard University, Boston, MA. Her passion for science continued to motivate her to do more as demonstrated by an incredibly successful career, in which she serves as an author/co-author of over 170 scientific publications, gave over 350 invited lectures and conference contributions worldwide, pioneered and invented many techniques and tools used in cutting-edge research worldwide, secured over $7 million for her research and serves as a reviewer for many international funding agencies.
She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), Jefferson Science Fellow, and a recipient of many academic and civic awards and honours that recognise her contribution to science, innovation, leadership and dedication to mentorship. Indeed, she a co-founder and President of Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization (SNO), a non-profit, international professional society dedicated to advancing sustainable nanotechnology around the world through education, research, and promotion of responsible growth of nanotechnology. She was recently awarded the highest academic award in Nigeria - Nigerian National Merit Award in Science (NNOM), awarded by the President of Nigeria, which serves to recognise an outstanding contribution to science. To date, only four Women, including Prof Sadik, received this the NNOM.
Prof Sadik is currently the principal investigator of a joint NSF/Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded project that focuses on developing field-based biosensor technology for smallholder farmers in developing countries. This project addresses the detection and remediation of Colletotrichum gloesporioides, a pathogenic fungus found on many fruit and vegetable crops including yams, tomatoes, oranges, and bananas. Through an NSF I-Corps Project, Sadik is advancing the commercialization of so-called “Triple Five”/(5-5-5 Sensal) technology that rapidly identifies the “notorious five” pathogens: Salmonella, E. coli, Norovirus, Staphylococcus epidermidis and Listeria (“Sensal”) all within five minutes.
Secret to Success
With all these successes, one would wonder whether Prof Sadik has never failed. Prof Sadik said “I have failed at many things in my life, but I do not give up. I enjoy applying my knowledge of chemistry to solve real-life problems.” Her success partly came due to careful planning of her career. She said “After I graduated at the top of my class in chemistry at the University of Lagos in Nigeria, my professors suggested that I should enter a PhD program. I decided to earn my master’s degree first, because I was unsure of whether the career paths that came out of doctoral study appealed to me, despite my love of chemistry itself. After completing my master’s degree at the University of Lagos, I worked briefly as a high school chemistry teacher and then later joined the Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR) as a research scientist. I eventually decided to pursue a PhD after realising that one could not be a successful researcher without one. I resigned from NIOMR about two years later, after winning a scholarship to pursue a PhD at the University of Wollongong in Australia.”
A typical day for Prof Sadik
No single day is alike for Professor Sadik. If she is not teaching or working with her research students, she is spending time with her teenage son or listening to her adult children about their careers or future interests. Her daughter is a Critical Care Physician and Anaesthesiologist and her older son is a Lawyer and Harvard MBA graduate.
As a professor of chemistry & the director of an organised research centre, a typical day involves teaching, conducting research and participating in professional services-reviewing papers, proposals or writing one. Professor Sadik teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in general chemistry, instrumental analysis, quantitative analytical chemistry, biosensors and environmental chemistry. Sometimes the enrolments in these classes vary: some are very large with several hundred students and this usually involves help of several graduate teaching assistants, who help with grading and laboratory logistics. Other classes are small comprising about 40-100 students, and sometimes there are graduate classes with just a few students. In addition, she supervises research laboratories where students work on specialized subjects in her areas of expertise. These include PhD, MS, BS students and postdoctoral fellows. Sadik gives technical lectures worldwide in her areas of expertise. She spends a large portion of her time conducting research and applying for grants to fund her centre research programs.
One aspect of being a professor is that she must keep up with new developments in her research field by reading scholarly articles, and participate in professional conferences, seminars and workshops. Regarding professional services, Sadik serves on her university committees, departmental committees, or as a member of the editorial boards of professional journals. Finally, she serves as a reviewer of scientific articles submitted to technical journals, and on the review panels/committees for grant applications submitted to funding agencies. She has served on elected positions of scholarly societies.
Professor Sadik is an avid swimmer and she enjoys pleasure reading whenever she is on travel.
Young scientists should be persistent, have a true love for what they do and develop the ability to see beyond their limitations. I believe that perseverance, risk-taking and luck play important roles in discovery and that, as scientists, they should not be afraid of challenging the conventional wisdom. For me, I have found out that the enduring desire to know is much more compelling than the short-lived excitement of discovery. If this is your goal, your passion and what you love, stick with it. However, remember that you will need a lot of good time management and guts. You can do it
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