Juul van der Laan

Professor Francis K.A. Allotey (1932 – 2017)

Photo: Francis Allotey, still from the film Multiverse by Juul van der Laan

The people's professor

The Ghanaian academic Francis Allotey was more than a great scientist, or maybe an example of what this title should entail. Born on August 9th 1932 in Saltpont Ghana, he was 85 years when he suddenly passed away in the evening of November 2nd 2017. 

During his lifetime 'Prof' not only excelled in the language of Mathematical Physics, understood only by a few, he also managed to speak a language through which he could reach many. A language of passion and for people. He was always concerned with science education and policy making for science as well as technology and sustainable development, especially related to Africa.

One of Prof's big achievements was a theory named after him, the 'Allotey Formalism', which he had postulated in the early 70s. He was the first to introduce electron-hole scattering resonance effects on soft C-ray spectroscopy. It was an important contribution to the understanding of atoms, and had huge implications for space science.

Francis Allotey urged that the next big scientific breakthroughs should come from the African continent. With their own cultural backgrounds, he felt African students should feel encouraged to contribute on a global and local scale. Science at large would benefit from their own fresh, new views. Over the decades he has founded, headed, developed and taught (at) many scientific institutes, societies, policies, university courses, primary schools and initiatives both in Ghana and internationally. This sounds like a lot, and it is. He was the first to set up a national Computer Science Centre in 1972. One of his latest involvements was in setting up a Ghanaian institute at which students from all over the continent could study for their Master's degree in Mathematical Sciences for free (AIMS Ghana). For all this work he won a suitably overwhelming list of awards.

Francis Allotey did not care about differences in social status. To many, many, scholars he was a mentor and an inspiration.

Note: In 2013, Juul van der Laan met Professor Francis Allotey in Ghana for the first time whilst she was directing a film about the state of science in the country. The interview Van der Laan filmed with the Prof himself – sitting on his front porch in the extraordinary Ghanaian sunlight – was most rewarding. He enthusiastically engaged with all her questions and emphasised the need for Africa to 'build a culture of asking questions.'

You can watch Prof. Allotey in Juul van der Laan’s documentary "Multiverse Ghana" here (for only €2,47/$2,99).

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