Madagascar, one of the 47 UN Least Developed Countries, faces hardships when it comes to economic growth. But Madagascar is also a nation where nuclear science flourished decades ago, despite a shortage of funds, no researchers and no laboratories. This miracle was made possible by a forward-thinker and a pioneer of the peaceful use of nuclear technology in the 1970s.
Raoelina Andriambololona, the founder and director-general of the National Institute for Nuclear Sciences and Technology (INSTN) in Madagascar and a 1985 TWAS Fellow has always advocated the use of nuclear power for environmental protection and sustainable applications. "For his development of peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology, both in Madagascar and in Africa", reads the citation, he was named the winner of the 2020 TWAS-C.N.R. Rao Award for Scientific Research.
The award, named after TWAS Founding Fellow and former president, C.N.R. Rao, is designed to honour TWAS Fellows from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), who have made significant contributions to global science.
"It's a pleasure for me to receive this award, in the name of a prestigious Indian scientist — C.N.R. Rao— whom I had the privilege to meet during many TWAS's General Conferences," Andriambololona said. "I dedicate it to my wife, who never stopped helping me go further, and to the several hundred students that I have trained to the level of doctors. This prize is an encouragement for us, researchers, from least developed countries that our all efforts are recognized internationally."
Andriambololona started his education at the University of Madagascar, in 1956; then he moved to France, where he worked at the University of Aix Marseilles, Saint-Charles Faculty of Science, until 1962, and at the Centre of Theoretical Physics in Marseille, from 1962 to 1968. In 1967 he earned his 'Doctorat d’ès sciences d’Etat' (PhD) in theoretical physics from Aix-Marseille University.
"At that time I was working at the Centre de Physique Théorique (CPT-Marseille), a laboratory depending on National Centre for Scientific Research (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, or CNRS), but my heart was with Madagascar,” he said. “So when I told my supervisor that I was planning to go back home he told me that I was crazy. Eventually, he accepted my motivations."
Andriambololona's motivations were serious indeed: in France, he was in a team of about 40 nuclear experts, whereas Madagascar had no one in this field. This is why, upon his return home, he set up from scratch the Laboratory of Nuclear Physics and Applied Physics (LPNPA), receiving assistance from the Ministry of Higher Education and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
"I had no facilities, no researchers and no technicians, but I always thought that science can beat ignorance and mystification and that the nuclear energy was a clean form of energy that could shape our future," he recalled.
LPNPA soon became a centre of reference, renowned at the international level. This prompted the Malagasy government to turn it into the National Institute for Nuclear Science and Technology, in 1992. Many staff scientists who work in the Physics Department in Madagascar capital city of Antananarivo were trained there, like many African students who work on their PhD thesis nowadays.
Meanwhile in 1989, with seven other fellow scientists, he set up the African Regional Cooperative Agreement for Research, Development and Training related to NST (AFRA), serving as the president in the AFRA-Fields Management Committee (AFRA- FMC) from 2001 to 2002.
Andriambololona's interests, however, were not restricted solely to nuclear energy. He is an expert in linear and multilinear algebra and applications, Quantum Field Theory, special and general theory of relativity, radiation protection, environmental pollutions; he also had an impact in social sectors such as development problems in developing countries.
He is also the Executive President of the Commission Raoelina Andriambololona pour la NANOtechnologie (CORANANO), which had been set up in 2013 by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, where Andriambololona sits as its Executive President.
"Nanotechnology is one of the most rapidly developing technologies today, which will have an enormous impact on societies and human life. Many applications — like energy storage, water remediation, food processing and storage — are tied to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Therefore, nanotechnology and development are intimately intertwined, and important for the development of Madagascar," he maintained.
Colleagues describe him as self-directed and motivated. But he was, and still is also strongly determined: "I never gave up in my career, and always promoted science with policymakers and governments, knowing that they do not keep science high in consideration because they need immediate results, which science cannot give."
He is a Fellow of the most prestigious international academies and associations including the International Energy Foundation (IEF), the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Physical Society and the European Physical Society. Among his awards, there is the Grand Croix de 2ème classe de I'Ordre National Malagasy (1997) and the Commandeur de I'Ordre du Mérite de Madagascar (1991).
A Nature lover, professor Andriambololona used to exercise and jog. Now he keeps himself in good health with long outdoor walks. His thoughts are always for the new generations of Malagasy scientists: "Some of my former students left the country to work in advanced countries, but many stayed despite the unmotivating salaries and difficulties," he said. "These contributed to developing research and higher education in the country. This is why I consider the C.N.R. Rao prize a reward for all the efforts I've made to develop scientific research in Madagascar."
Andriambololona is the second Malagasy recipient of the C.N.R. Rao Award: in 2006 compatriot Philippe Rasoanaivo was a co-winner with TWAS Fellow Berhanu M. Abegaz.
About the TWAS-C.N.R. Rao Award for Scientific Research
The award, named after TWAS Founding Fellow and former president C.N.R. Rao, carries a cash award of USD5,000 generously provided by Professor Rao. It is designed to honour TWAS Fellows from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), who have made significant contributions to global science. Winners of the past three editions were: Evelyne Isaack Mbede, Tanzania (2019); Yeya Tiemoko Touré, Mali (2018); Kalulu Taba, Congo Dem. Rep. (2017). For more information about the award, please visit the page: https://twas.org/opportunity/twas-cnr-rao-award-scientific-research