Published 8 June 2017 by Ulrike Böhm

Marian Nkansah Studies Heavy Metals in Ghana

Interview with #LiNo17 visiting scientist Marian Nkansah

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter). Enjoy the interview with Marian and get inspired.

Photo: Courtesy of Marian Nkansah
Photo: Courtesy of Marian Nkansah

Marian Nkansah from Ghana is senior Lecturer at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi-Ghana. Currently, she is part of a DANIDA-sponsored project called SHEATHE, in which she and colleagues are looking at levels and distribution of heavy metals and xenobiotic substances as a result of artisanal gold mining and e-waste dumping in Ghana.


What inspired you to pursue a career in chemistry?

The environment in which I grew up planted the seed of interest in science in me. I was born to two educationists and grew up on a school compound which was in the outskirts of town. Everything from the woods in which I played with other kids to the backyard farm of different crops and animals tickled my fancy and made me always want to know how things came into being.


Who are your role models?

My mother Mary Nkansah, a retired educationalist. She taught me perseverance and the need to keep my eyes on the goal.


How did you get to where you are in your career path?

After my Bachelor programme in 2002, I had two options for my one-year national service. I had to choose between going to industry and staying at the university as a teaching assistant. It was then that I realised that I actually like teaching and also like helping people. I therefore presented myself to be interviewed and was selected among the eight people who were chosen to be teaching assistants that year at my current work place. This would set the stage for a carrier in science. After the national service, I continued with my masters, got hired and pursued a PhD abroad. I returned to my job in September 2012 after my PhD.


What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

My coolest project was a study I conducted on the levels of heavy metals in the classrooms of some kindergartens in Ghana. The story made the news and led to my granting interviews in the print and electronic media.


Photo: Courtesy of Marian Nkansah
Photo: Courtesy of Marian Nkansah


What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?

The day I was announced as the inaugural recipient of the TWAS FM Al-Kharafi Prize for women in science in November 2016.


What is a “day in the life” of Marian like?

I wake up at 5 am, do my morning Prayers before hopping out of bed to take a shower and then have breakfast if it’s not too late. I am a catholic so I try to attend morning mass if there is one before I head to the office. At the moment I am not only a teaching faculty member but also an administrator since I work as warden of Africa Hall, an all-female hall of residence. Depending on my teaching schedule, I start work at the hall at 8 am, attend to letters and other pending issues and then move to my office in the teaching area of the campus or vice versa. I meet my research group during the afternoons of Mondays and Fridays, when I don’t have any teaching.


What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

I wish to make a difference wherever I find myself and also influence the lives of all I encounter positively.


Photo: Courtesy of Marian Nkansah
Photo: Courtesy of Marian Nkansah


What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

I love traveling and experiencing different people and cultures. I also like to write, dance or listen to music.


What advice do you have for other women interested in science/chemistry?

I would advise all women interested in chemistry not to allow those who tried and failed or never tried anything at all determine their pace but rather take inspiration from those who tried and made it.


In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science/chemistry?

A cure for all chronic diseases, made from natural products.


What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

A family friendly environment, where female scientists can be great scientists and still raise a family if they wish to do so, should be created. This would encourage many young women to pursue careers in academia.

Ulrike Böhm

Ulrike Boehm is a physicist and science enthusiast. She works as an optical scientist at ZEISS in Oberkochen, Germany. Previously, she did her Ph.D. studies at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen in the Department of NanoBiophotonics of Nobel Laureate Stefan Hell, followed by research stays in the US at the National Institutes of Health and HHMI’s Janelia Research Campus, developing tools for biomedical research. She is generally passionate about designing and building (optical) instruments to image, probe, and manipulate (biological) structures. Furthermore, she is passionate about science communication and open science and is a huge advocate for women in science.