Meet the Father of Astronomy in Nigeria – Prof. P.N Okeke

Prof. P.N Okeke. Image retrieved from Twitter

If you ever took a course in high school Physics in Nigeria, then the name P.N. Okeke must sound very familiar. P.N. Okeke has become a household name for every high school kid doing physics, so much that the same way Einstein is often used synonymously for “genius”, P.N. Okeke is used in place of “physics”. Well, the full name is Pius Nwankwo Okeke, and he is the Author of the arguably the most popular Physics Textbook (Senior Secondary Physics) in Nigeria. Of course, the book’s popularity is a consequence of how the author explained the science concepts in it; some folks claim that even a janitor can think of discovering new laws of physics after exhausting its content.  

Brief History

P.N. Okeke was born on the 30th of October, 1941. He felt, once upon a time, that his dreams of becoming a scientist would not see the stages of reality—that world-crashing-down kind of feeling common among young dreamers growing into adolescence. He attended a primary school in Oraukwu where he did very well in Mathematics, but poorly in almost every other subject. Do you remember who had a similar story? Yes, Einstein! And like Einstein, he simply was not interested. He moved to Washington memorial Grammar school in 1957- 1962, a private secondary school where he had no opportunity to offer physics and chemistry because of his past record.

Eventually, P.N. Okeke moved to Lagos and attended Emergency Science School Lagos where he did all the science subjects at O’Level GCE and then A’Level GCE; he had a distinction in Pure and Applied Mathematics and Physics. He was offered admission to study Physics in 1965 at the University of Lagos, Nigeria.

He emerged with the most outstanding results in the Faculty of Sciences. He won a scholarship from his faculty as a result that would cover his education to PhD level, anywhere in the world!

You could call it the waves of providence, but P.N. Okeke eventually ended up completing his B.Sc at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Or to be less mysterious, the Civil War necessitated his move to the East to finish his studies, disrupting his gloriously laid career map, creating another one in the process. He graduated with a second class upper degree in 1971, and was appointed a Junior Research Fellow of the University of Nigeria in 1972.

Achievements

He continued his studies at the University of Nigeria, and earned his PhD degree in 1975; he was the first person to do this at the time. Under the supervision of the very distinguished Astronomer Professor M.J. Rees, he carried out his Postdoctoral research at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom in 1979. He rose to the rank of a professor and leader of the Space Research Centre University of Nigeria in 1989 and also tackled many problems in Astronomy and collaborated with researchers worldwide to become a distinguished international scholar.

P.N. Okeke has a lot of international awards to his name, and some of them are:

  • Senior Research Fellow National Astronomical Observatory, Tokyo, Japan 1993
  • Visiting Scientist, University of Tuebingen, Germany 1995
  • Visiting Professor South African Astronomical Observatory 1996
  • Visiting Scientist Harvard Smithsonian Centre USA, 1997
  • External Board Member, South African National Science Foundation 1994-2000
  • Fellow of Royal Astronomical Society, London
  • Fellow of Nigerian Academy of Science
  • Fellow of Nigerian Institute of Physics
  • Fellow of Planetary and Radio Science
  • Fellow of IAA
  • United Nations Consultant in Space Science in Africa

In the course of his dedicated research, he made the following outstanding discoveries:

  • Discovery of a new eclipsing cataclysmic variable;
  • Prediction of observational consequences of a mini black hole;
  • Proposed a Nuclear Beam Model in Radio Sources.
  • Contributed immensely in Astrophysical Spectral Research,
  • Conducted massive postgraduate training for Nigerian Space Science scholars using facilities at home and abroad
  • Prof. P.N. Okeke is the African recipient of the UN/NASA award in 2007 for his tremendous contributions in the development of Astronomy in Africa.

At the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Prof. P.N. Okeke has never failed to prove his soundness in administrative roles.

With over 6 Professors heading Space Research programs in other Universities, 25 PhDs, 30 MSCs, and 75% of Nigerian Astronomers linked to him, P.N Okeke has engraved his name upon the stones of posterity. About 3/4 of Astronomers in Nigeria are the products of Prof. Okeke. 

Prof. Okeke directed the NASRDA Centre for Basic Space Science (CBSS), and with the help of the Chinese, set up its permanent site at Nsukka that is now one of the largest Radio Telescope in Africa. The Centre has been recently upgraded to African Regional Centre for Space Weather Research. Through the efforts of P. N. Okeke, CBSS has entered into collaborative research with over 20 universities and several research institutes including the National Meteorological Agency, (NIMET). And today, excellent successes are being recorded in the areas of Atmospheric Science and Astronomy throughout the country.

Prof. Okeke successfully set up a network of twenty automatic weather stations operating through wireless telemetry for monitoring Nigerian Climate, as well as, for studying Radio Propagation in Nigeria. He signed MOUs with several countries for various research programs for which over 50 scientists from Nigeria have received training. Some of these institutions are:

  • National Astronomical Observatory(NAO), Japan,
  • South African Astronomical Observatory, Cape Town,
  • HartRAO Observatory, S. Africa,
  • Harvard Smithsonian Centre, USA,
  • University of Delaware, USA,
  • Altteche Technology, China. And
  • Urumqi Radio Astronomy Observatory, China.

P.N. Okeke, who is now an Emeritus Professor at the University of Nigeria, has written over a dozen books on Physics and Astronomy, ranging from secondary school to university level. And these books are best sellers in Nigeria and some other African countries. His accomplishments, asides from the fact that they would impress even the most critical of souls, are a compass to guide our generation as we collectively work to changing the world.

The above biography was curated from information available online.




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