Binghamton University Chemistry Professor Omowunmi Sadik receives a 2016 Nigerian National Order of Merit from Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and Chairman of the National Merit Award Committee Professor Etim Moses Essien, second from left, during a visit to the Presidential Villa in Abuja. Fellow awardee Professor Tanure Ojaide is at left.
Photo by Philip Ojisua
Sadik honored with Nigerian National Order of Merit
January 17, 2017Tweet
Omowunmi Sadik, professor of chemistry, has been recognized with the 2016 Nigerian National Order of Merit, her native country’s highest national honor for distinguished contributions in academia.
Created in 1979, the Order of Merit has been awarded to 73 people to date, and only four of them – including Sadik – are women. “Many of the recipients, including Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, author Chinua Achebe and Isidore Okpewho [recently deceased Distinguished Professor of Africana Studies at Binghamton] are people whose work and accomplishments have been very meaningful to me on a personal level,” Sadik said. This award broadly recognizes Sadik’s accomplishments in science, innovation and research; her international professional leadership and her passion for developing sustainable solutions to Nigeria’s educational and research needs.
“I am the first chemist and the first female scientist to receive the honor,” said Sadik, who was contacted and asked to submit an application for the award. “Knowing the caliber of people who have received the award and that I’m considered on that level is phenomenal,” she said. “If your people pick you out and give you that kind of recognition, it’s satisfying. I’m ecstatic and also humbled.”
After receiving word she had been selected for the award in late November, Sadik had only one week to prepare and travel with her family to Nigeria for a forum and the Dec. 1 ceremony to accept the honor from Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. The theme of the forum, held to bring a distinguished audience from the public and private sectors together to generate ideas to foster national unity and enhance economic and political growth and development, was “Mono-Economy, Diversification, Exchange Rate Stability and the Development of the Nigerian Nation.”
Sadik is the director of the Center for Research in Advanced Sensor Technologies and Environmental Sustainability (CREATES), formerly known as the Center for Advanced Sensors and Environmental Systems (CASE). “We changed the name to better describe the direction we’re moving to for sustainable development,” she said.
She recently received a major grant from the National Science Foundation with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop sensors that farmers can use to assess the presence of some fungi in agricultural programs.
Sadik and her research group are working on paper-based sensors that can detect the fungi, which can kill production by as much as 70 percent. “It’s something that’s low cost and famers in developing countries can take and use,” she said. “So for example, if a farmer grows yams, which is common in developing countries in Asia and Africa, and Nigeria is one of the largest producers, it’s important agriculturally. That’s why we decided to focus on this.”
Sadik considers herself a problem solver as much as a scientist, and not the typical academic. “From the get go, I have always wanted to find solutions to real-life problems. Any time I’ve learned any complex concept, I’ve asked, ‘How does it translate to solving real-life problems?’ and I’ve approached my research from that perspective.
“How can something be of use? I develop sensors and technologies and look for creative solutions to problems,” she said.
Her love of science came from her parents – her pharmacist dad especially. “He loved science and he always emphasized this to all of his children. It was not uncommon for him to teach us why this particular environmental phenomenon had happened or ask for our thoughts on new scientific advancements that had occurred,” she said. “He imparted that general love of science and learning very early on, and one of my brothers was the first to talk to me about chemistry in particular. My brother would learn things and share them with me, and I would take his textbooks and read them myself.”
Sadik’s research group, which includes undergraduates as well as graduate students and post-docs, typically has four projects going at one time. “I define the goals and directions and create a rationale for each project, and try to assign people based on their interests,” she said. “I think if you are really passionate about what you’re doing, you’re more likely to spend time on it and find solutions. So we have discussions and then the students catch onto that passion for their project.”
Sadik joined the faculty at Binghamton in 1996, and has sustained an excellent record of peer-reviewed dissemination of research in biosensors and bioanalytical chemistry. She is the author/co-author on over 160 scientific publications and has given over 350 invited lectures and conference contributions worldwide. Out of the 30 PhD students that she has mentored to date, 12 have gone on to faculty positions in the U.S. and internationally.
Sadik is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in the United Kingdom and of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. She is also president and co-founder of the Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization. In 2003, she was the first person of Nigerian origin to receive the distinguished Harvard University Radcliffe Fellowship. The famed Nigerian authors Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Uzodinma Iweala, the son of former Nigerian Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, both received the same Harvard University Radcliffe Fellowship eight years after Sadik, and current U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren received the Harvard University Radcliffe Fellowship two years before Sadik.