Ghanaian – Canadian scientist encourages black youth to pursue STEM careers

A Ghanaian – Calgary scientist is celebrating his receipt of a United States patent for his invention of a machine that detects molecules of a toxin and turns them into a stable gas.

Charles Odame-Ankrah said it’s an achievement he hopes can encourage more Black and immigrant youth in Alberta to pursue careers in STEM, a field where Black people are historically underrepresented.

“There’s room for everyone,” said Odame-Ankrah, an analytical chemist who got his PhD at the University of Calgary and sits on the board of the Calgary African Community Collective.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity that’s been granted to Canadians like myself . . . If Alberta continues to open its doors to immigrants from around the world, I hope some of this magic can continue to happen.”

The patent granted on Dec. 29, 2022, is for a photolytic converter that detects and breaks down molecules of nitrogen dioxide, a chemical compound emitted by sources including vehicles and gas stoves. The gas is toxic and can have negative health effects depending on the concentration of gas in the air, and the duration and frequency of exposure.

The machine captures molecules of nitrogen dioxide in the air and then uses light to break them down into a stable output that can be measured.

It’s an innovation Odame-Ankrah said he hopes can have positive implications for scientists working to combat global warming.

“Part of fighting climate change is being able to accurately measure all the things that contribute to climate change, and nitrogen dioxide is one of them,” he said.

Odame-Ankrah said the experience also showed the importance of small businesses investing in diversity in the workplace and employing people who may not fit their usual profile, a message he said he hopes employers consider during Black History Month.

“People from these diverse backgrounds need to be given the opportunities, because if we’re not given opportunities it gives the impression we’re not capable,” he said.


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