Introducing ... Dr. Stéphane Kenmoe

Dr. Stephane Kenmoe bei einem Vortrag
© International Centre for Theoretical Physics

Introducing ... Dr. Stéphane KenmoePromoting Science in Cameroon

Dr. Stéphane Kenmoe has been working as a postdoctoral researcher at the Chair of Theoretical Chemistry at the University of Duisburg-Essen for three years. Born in 1984 in Cameroon, he is actively involved in promoting African early career researchers and building networks. In his home country, he is known for TV appearances in which he explains scientific phenomena in a generally understandable and humorous way. In November, Kenmoe, who lives in Duisburg, will again travel to Cameroon and head the 1st Central African School on Electronic Structure Methods and Applications.

Kenmoe's current research project at the University of Duisburg-Essen is part of the Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) Heterogeneous Oxidation Catalysis in the Liquid Phase of the University of Duisburg-Essen and Ruhr-Universität Bochum, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). Around 600 million tons of chemicals are produced each year by oxidation reactions, which can generally be described as chemical processes in which one substance releases electrons to another substance. Catalysts can accelerate such processes without themselves being consumed. The aim of the CRC is to gain a detailed understanding of oxide catalysis.

Kenmoe is particularly interested in photocatalytic water splitting, in which visible light is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. It is believed to have great potential for environmentally friendly production of energy from sunlight, but the necessary technology for this form of energy generation is still lacking.

Besides research, science communication is Kenmoe’s second passion, which fills a large part of his free time. "In Cameroon," he says, "there is a serious lack of scientific culture." He estimates that less than 1% of the gross domestic product is invested in research and development every year. Entertainment, on the other hand, plays an important role in the everyday lives of many Cameroonians. This is the reason why the 35-year-old uses television and social media to communicate popular scientific topics in an easily understandable way. He often invites Cameroonian stars such as actors and musicians to joint television appearances in order to attract as much attention as possible. "Making science the star" is the motto of all his activities that aim to support the growth of a scientific culture in Cameroon.

Despite the humour and playful ease with which Kenmoe presents his themes, he is driven by a serious socio-political claim. The highly specialised scientist wants to raise awareness of the relevance of research and research funding among Cameroonian politicians and "increase the pressure on politics".  Just a few days ago Kenmoe published a book (La science illumine Ndjocka-City) that deals with the question of how science and research are perceived in Cameroon. A 26-part TV series based on the book is in preparation and Kenmoe was able to win many well-known actors from Cameroon for this shoot. Over the years, the father of two has become a star himself in Cameroon, inspiring many people with his successful scientific career. "After my broadcasts, parents often call me and ask me how their children can make the step into university.”

To increase the general enthusiasm on science in his home country, Kenmoe pursues a three-step strategy: "First," he says, "you have to arouse the interest and passion of young people, you have to create vocation. Then it is important to build capacities, to offer them the opportunity to expand and strengthen their skills. And third, you have to expose capacities to opportunities. In this way, they will be able to undertake research stays at institutions and universities abroad." For this reason, Kenmoe regularly organises workshops with international experts in Cameroon, currently the 1st Central African School on Electronic Structure Methods and Applications (CASESMA), which takes place from 18 to 25 November 2019 in Dschang. Prof. Dr. Eckhard Spohr from the Chair of Theoretical Chemistry at the University of Duisburg-Essen and other renowned scientists will accompany him and look for talents on site.

Kenmoe himself was selected as such a talent one year after his master's degree at the University of Dschang in Cameroon in 2010 for a one-year postgraduate training programme at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy – a state-sponsored and UN-supported institution that promotes cutting-edge research in Third World countries and scientific exchange. Every year, only 40 graduates from so-called developing countries are given this opportunity. It was the starting shot for his scientific career, which he continued as a doctoral fellow at the Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung in Düsseldorf and which finally led him to the University of Duisburg-Essen as a postdoc after his doctorate in 2015.

During this time, Kenmoe has built up a large network. Among others, he is a member of the board of the African Physical Society, where he is responsible for communication. In addition, he co-organises the first conference for young African scientists in North America ("YASNA"), which will take place in Montréal in May 2020. In July 2018, he also co-organised the first conference dedicated to young African scientists in Europe ("YASE") which took place in Toulose. For him, international exchange is the key to successful scientific careers: "My own career is a good example of the impact of developing your career abroad." The CASESMA School in Cameroon will be the next opportunity to highlight that again.