Dr. Cynthia N. Ibeto is an Associate Professor at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), who focuses on the environmental and health risks of emerging persistent organic pollutants and on adding value to waste materials through bioremediation. She has served in various capacities for both national and international chemical societies.
Here she talks to Dr. Vera Koester of ChemistryViews about her research, the situation of chemists in Nigeria, and her motivation and incredible energy for supporting others.
You are involved in many different tasks related to different organizations. You are an International Younger Chemists Network (IYCN) delegate from Nigeria, involved in the Chemical Society of Nigeria, and are Vice-Chair of the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Chapter, to name only a few.
What motivates you to work on all these committees?
I have always wanted to make an impact in society, and the desire to continue doing that is what keeps me motivated. As I advanced in my career as a chemist and member of some professional bodies, I had expectations which I felt could be actualized if I played my part in contributing to the advancement of each society. I started identifying areas that could be improved and realized that the best way to bring about that change is by first doing what I can before expecting others to do the same.
What is your biggest motivation?
My biggest motivation has been the feedback from people that have benefited from my contribution to various societies. About once a week, I receive an e-mail, text message, or WhatsApp message from someone thanking me for information or support that led to a promotion, a scholarship, a job received, and so on.
Seeing the impact in their lives has helped me to still do my bit even when I think I have done enough or find myself with little time to continue.
How did your commitment start?
It started with my first elected position in 2012 as the Technical Secretary/Editor-in-Chief of the Solar Energy Society of Nigeria and seeing the impact I made with a single position. I was responsible for the Nigerian Journal of Solar Energy (NJSE), which is published annually by the society to inform readers about solar energy and other energy sources and promote cooperation.
From the first year I took the position, I received e-mails and calls from various parts of the country thanking me for the quality of the journal published and how I presented the society.
What is particularly important to you about these commitments?
As the national coordinator for Women in Chemistry of Nigeria, I have learned that to persevere in any task, especially in challenging periods, it is always good to think of the people we serve. A true concern for them will lead one to act selflessly and persevere in any situation.
Also, no one can succeed alone in any position. It is important to give people working with you credit for what they do or acknowledge their contributions. This might also encourage them to do more.
How important is it that the next generation is also involved in the work of chemical societies and organizations?
It is very important that the next generation is involved because we need to have young minds with new ideas and ways of doing things that contribute to the advancement of chemistry globally.
What do you think are the main challenges for young people?
The main challenges for young people are a lack of confidence, trust, and support from mentors or older colleagues. There are also limited opportunities for them to develop professionally or become well educated, especially in developing countries.
What is the situation like for chemists in Nigeria?
Chemistry in Nigeria is a bit challenging due to the lack of an enabling environment, including infrastructure and equipment in many institutions. There has, however, been a recent improvement in very few institutions in the country.
What is the particular situation of the Chemical Society of Nigeria?
The Chemical Society of Nigeria (CSN) has recently attracted many members at various levels, especially with activities organized by the society, such as training workshops and various webinars. There have been funded collaborations with other international societies such as the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), the American Chemical Society (ACS), and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC).
Also, the CSN is now a member of the Federation of Commonwealth Chemical Sciences Societies (FCCSS). The FCCSS is a uniquely diverse group of chemists from across the Commonwealth with shared values and a strong voice. It represents 54 member states. With a population of 2.4 billion, it includes both advanced economies and developing countries.
You are currently the coordinator for Women in Chemistry of Nigeria. Can you say something about women chemists in Nigeria?
The women chemists are a group of enterprising and enthusiastic professionals who at different levels of their career are eager to learn, grow, and optimize various opportunities to excel in their profession. The mentor–mentee relationship is spreading across women chemists in Nigeria. They are also keen on collaboration and ready to do their bit for women in chemistry globally. This is also reflected in the level of participation in global activities, including the IUPAC breakfast meetings that are now held annually.
When did your interest in the sciences begin?
I decided to become a chemist when I was in secondary school. I had a very good teacher who taught chemistry with a passion. He made it very practical and emphasized its relevance to national development.
I wanted to be able to pursue my profession after graduation instead of doing something else because there were not enough job opportunities. So, when I heard the slogan, “What on earth isn’t chemistry?”, I knew being able to practice my profession wouldn’t be far-fetched.
Tell us a bit about how your career has developed.
I completed my M.Sc. program in analytical chemistry in 2007 and was employed as an Academic Research Fellow of the National Centre for Energy Research and Development (NCERD) at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), in 2008. I was in the Biomass Unit of NCERD, UNN, and also started lecturing part-time at the Department of Pure and Industrial Chemistry, UNN.
In 2010, I obtained my Ph.D. in analytical chemistry and was appointed a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Pure and Industrial Chemistry at UNN in 2016. I received a Schlumberger Faculty for the Future Fellowship award in 2016 and 2017, and did my postdoc at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. I was promoted to Associate Professor with effect from 2019.
Can you please briefly explain the focus of your work?
I lecture and supervise students at the B.Sc., M.Sc., and Ph.D. levels in environmental and analytical chemistry. My research has focused on the analysis and optimization of biofuel production processes. Currently, I am working on the human and environmental risk assessment of emerging persistent organic pollutants and the use of waste materials for bioremediation of the polluted environment.
This is important because studies are needed on the levels of these pollutants in various environmental media to determine sustainable abatement strategies. These pollutants are found in various environmental media and humans are exposed to them daily, with little or no idea about the actual health implications or environmental risks. Various analytical methods are used to determine the levels of these contaminants and risks assessments done with established models. The sorption properties of different biomaterials are being studied for clean up of the environment and removal of the pollutants.
What do you do in your spare time?
I do aerobics and read novels in my spare time. I also engage in service projects in rural areas with my friends. We have painted schools, given extra classes to pupils, and had an interesting but fruitful project on “a chair for a child” in a rural school. Many students in rural schools have to sit on the floor because they have very few chairs in the class. Our project has helped to change this in this school through our fundraising efforts and the purchase of chairs for the students.
Thank you for the interview.
Cynthia N. Ibeto studied chemistry at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), and obtained her Ph.D. in analytical chemistry there in 2010. From 2008 to 2016, she worked at the National Centre for Energy Research and Development of UNN as an academic research fellow. Currently, Cynthia Ibeto is an Associate Professor at UNN.
Her research currently focuses on the environmental and health risks of emerging persistent organic pollutants and on adding value to waste materials through bioremediation.
Cynthia N. Ibeto has held a number of positions in chemical societies and is currently the national coordinator of Women in Chemistry of Nigeria and an IYCN delegate from Nigeria.
- Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) Research Mobility Grant 2020
- Gold Award of Excellence 2019 of the Chemical Society of Nigeria
- Schlumberger Faculty for the Future Fellowship award 2016/2017
- Analytical Chemistry Trust Fund, Developing World Scholarship 2014
- C. Ibeto, E. Aju, B. Imafidon, D. Okongwu, Exposure evaluation and risk assessment of polybrominated diphenyl ethers in dust from microenvironments in Nsukka, Nigeria, Environmental Science and Pollution Research 2021. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-021-13054-x
- C. Ibeto, V. Omoni, M. Fagbohungbe, K. Semple, Impact of digestate and its fractions on mineralization of 14C-phenanthrene in aged soil, Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 2020. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoenv.2020.110482
- C. N. Ibeto, C. J. Obiefuna, K. E. Ugwu, Environmental effects of concretes produced from partial replacement of cement and sand with coal ash, International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology 2020, 17, 2967–2976. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13762-020-02682-4
- C. N. Ibeto, A. J. Lag-Brotons, R. Marshall, K. T. Semple, The Nutritional Effects of Digested and Undigested Organic Wastes Combined with Wood Ash Amendments on Carrot Plants, Journal of Soil Science and Plant Nutrition 2020, 20, 460–472. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42729-019-00131-x
- C. N. Ibeto, C. Anekwe, J. Ihedioha, Human exposure risk to semivolatile organic compounds via soil in automobile workshops in Awka, South Eastern, Nigeria, Environmental Science and Pollution Research 2019, 26, 16249–16260. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-019-04981-x
- C. N. Ibeto, W. C. Nkechi, N. R. Ekere, Health Risks of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) Levels in Fish and Sediment from River Niger (Onitsha Axis), Journal of Aquatic Food Product Technology 2019, 28(2), 138–149. https://doi.org/10.1080/10498850.2019.1568332
- C. N. Ibeto, C. T. Ugwu, Exhaust Emissions from Engines Fuelled with Petrol, Diesel and their Blends with Biodiesel Produced from Waste Cooking Oil, Polish Journal of Environmental Studies 2019, 28(5), 3197–3206. https://doi.org/10.15244/pjoes/93926
- M. O. Fagbohungbe, B. M. J. Herbert, L. Hurst, C. N. Ibeto, H. Li, S. Q. Usmani, K. T. Semple, The challenges of anaerobic digestion and the role of biochar in optimizing anaerobic digestion, Waste Management 2017, 61, 236–249. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2016.11.028
- C. N. Anyanwu, C. N. Ibeto, S. L. Ezeoha, N. J. Ogbuagu, Sustainability of cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz) as industrial feedstock, energy and food crop in Nigeria, Renewable Energy 2015, 81, 745–752. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2015.03.075
- C. N. Anyanwu, C. C. Mbajiorgu, C. N. Ibeto, P. M. Ejikeme, Effect of reaction temperature and time on neem methyl ester yield in a batch reactor, Energy Conversion and Management 2013, 74, 81–87. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enconman.2013.04.029