Johnson & Johnson Innovation launched the Champions of Science Storytelling Challenge in 2018 to uncover the inspirational stories of scientists and innovators working to make a difference in their communities and around the world. Through this and many other programs that are part of Champions of Science platform, we hope to celebrate diverse champions of science from around the world and get more people to embrace the role of science in our society.
We recently held a special edition of the Challenge during the inaugural Young African Scientists in Europe (YASE) conference. We are proud to announce that Mahmoud Bukar Maina was chosen as the winner of the Challenge by an independent selection committee.
Read Mahmoud’s story below to learn more about what inspired him to become a scientist, what societal challenge he hopes to address through his work, and why he believes telling stories of science and engaging more champions of science is so important.
Congratulations to Mahmoud and thanks to all the Challenge participants!
Champions of Science Storytelling Challenge – YASE Edition Winner, Mahmoud Bukar Maina
As a little boy, I became interested in science due to my father's science book called "Simple Science", which contained simple experiments that we would often try together with my siblings. However, growing up, I was surrounded by a community with a high level of cultural and religious misconceptions about science. Some kids often chanted a song that one would go to "Hell" for daring to think about becoming a scientist. Indeed, such mentality led to the rise of the terror group Boko Haram, who nearly took my life in 2013 during my science outreach journeys, as well as destroyed my high school – FGC Buni Yadi, in 2014. Maintaining a passion for science in a such an environment was not easy, but family support and a newfound interest in the “brain” during my undergraduate lectures in neurosciences soon made me unrepentant in my pursuit of science.
To learn more about the brain, I took a job at a Neuropsychiatric Hospital after graduation, where I came to learn more about the debilitating impact of brain diseases. This consolidated my interest in neuroscience and took me on a journey to the University of Sussex, UK, where I started working on Alzheimer's disease (AD), a major brain disease affecting over 40 million people worldwide. Finding a treatment for AD, which commonly steals away memories of sufferers, is a holy grail of neuroscience research. I soon realized that research has many challenges, either experiment failing to work or getting a journal and/or grant rejections. My work did uncover a new role for the AD-related protein called tau, but it is the research process that I find very rewarding and which one day I hope to bring back to Africa to search for medicinal herbs against AD. Africa has real potential in this area due to the rich medicinal herb resource in the continent that has been used for centuries by locals for the treatment of brain diseases.
However, to drive scientific innovation, aspiring scientists need to be mentored, and the public encouraged to appreciate, trust and support science. For this, I founded an outreach programme in 2013 which currently has over 90 scientists across Africa that I coordinate to inspire the future generation of scientists and enhance public understanding of science. Through this, I came to interact with over 600 students and learned that many see scientific innovation as a thing of the West, partly because of the lack of visible science role models around them or stories of African science heroes. This is important not just to inspire the future generation of scientists, but to enhance public's view of science. As a result, I founded Science Communication Hub Nigeria which has to date enabled over 50,000 people in Africa to interact with scientists and learn about African science heroes via science stories. My ultimate goal is to return to Nigeria to lead research into AD and along the way, inspire millions of Africans that would facilitate Africa's rise as a science superpower