Grace Ndunge, 26, is pursuing a master’s program in nuclear science at the University of Nairobi with a view to becoming an inorganic chemist.
Her other dreams are to become a professor of inorganic chemistry, starting a beverages and liquor distillation firm, and mentoring young entrepreneurs. She spoke to mynetwork about her journey that was inspired by her love for perfumes.
Why an inorganic chemist?
It was my love for perfumes that prompted me to pursue a career in this field.
I wanted to make unique products, and to move away from this obsession that most young people have of becoming doctors, lawyers, engineers or pilots.
Growing up, I kept asking myself, “Who makes some of these things that we use every day?”
Did your family support your career choice?
No. My guardians felt that I needed to reconsider my stand and pick a course that, in their view, the market would be ready for. They wanted me to study business management.
What does inorganic chemistry involve?
Chemistry is required to measure and apply the ingredients used to make every product you see in the market.
An inorganic chemist plays a very important role during industrial technical processes.
Why does the market need an inorganic chemist?
With my skills, I can make several products that the market needs — from toothpaste to cosmetics, and even value added foods and drinks.
This is a market that is fast growing in Africa as the population continues to soar and the number of mouths to feed increases.
Besides working for manufacturing industries, my skills would be useful to business owners who modify fruits, vegetable, milk and other food stuffs to increase their market value and shelf life.
After undertaking analysis of their nutritional value, I can advise them on how to improve their products.
How does nuclear science apply in your career?
Nuclear science technology involves the study of chemicals and their functions.
Normally, this is done in controlled laboratories using safe techniques. The advantage of using nuclear technology is that it gives rapid results.
One is also able to conduct analysis without losing the efficacy of the sample under study. It is quite accurate and reliable for optimum scientific results.
Any practical case where you have used nuclear techniques?
I once analysed beetroots from different ecological zones in Kisumu, Machakos, Naivasha, Karatina and Gilgil and discovered that the fruit has a higher potassium, iron and manganese content than carrots and potatoes.
However, carrots have a higher calcium content than beetroots and potatoes. Beetroots from Karatina, in Nyeri County, have the highest concentrations of potassium, iron and calcium in every milligram per kilogramme; while those from within Nairobi County have the lowest concentrates.
What did people say about eating beetroot?
About 80 per cent said that they don’t eat beetroot because of its colour and taste.
A similar percentage of interviewees did not know about its nutritional benefits. From this information, I concluded that Kenyans need to be enlightened on the nutritional benefits of the foods available to them.
Any other studies or analyses you have done?
I once analysed water properties in samples obtained from Gilgil, and discovered that it had 10mg/kg of natural fluoride, which is so much higher than the recommended amount of 0.5mg/kg.
Which form of nuclear technology did you apply for the analysis?
I used energy dispersive x-ray fluorescence (EDXRF). In this method, one has the advantage of getting the results for all the desired tests, just from one sample.
Who is your mentor?
Professor David Njoroge Kariuki. I have been privileged to work under his supervision as an inorganic chemist specialist.
He has been instrumental in advising me on what I need to do, especially during beetroot study and research. I want to become a professor just like him.
What will you advise one intending to study inorganic chemistry?
It is a very interesting field and you get to play around with many chemicals.
If you are curious to know what happens when different elements are put together, then chemistry is the course for you.
However, you need to put more emphasis on mathematics, chemistry, physics and geography because they are also required in this course. Knowledge in biology is also important.
What is your advice to young people?
When choosing a career path, don’t be influenced by the expectations of others. If you follow the wave, you will soon discover that what applied for others did not for you.
Look into the future and find a way of matching your passion with your dreams. I encourage those in school to stop viewing science subjects as being too hard. Just focus on your goals.
What are your hobbies?
Reading fictional books, watching movies and swimming.