Ezekiel Nyaga, 28, is pursuing a career in atmospheric modelling in a master’s programme at the University of Nairobi.
His curiosity to understand how the science of the atmosphere works and its relationship to human life and the environment started when he was a small boy, growing up in Kuresoi, Nakuru County.
Having scored B in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary School Education at Jomo Kenyatta High School in 2009, he joined Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology to study a course in physical sciences (BSc Physics), graduating in 2015.
Afterwards, he secured a scholarship from Gandhi Smarak Nidhi Fund in 2018 to pursue a master’s programme in atmospheric modelling.
What is atmospheric modelling?
It’s a science that applies mathematical theories to generate predictable measurements (simulations) for analysis in air quality, air pollution, weather behavioural patterns and climate prediction.
By using atmospheric modelling, one can study air movement and possible air quality features such as distribution of air pollutants.
You can also predict changes in weather patterns and climate effects. An atmospheric modeller complements meteorologists in their work, which involves weather and climate forecast studies.
It also assists air quality experts to study and monitor pollutants’ behaviour and their movement in the air.
What made you study atmospheric modelling?
While in primary school, I noted that seasons were changing. Rains would sometimes be unpredictable, interfering with our farming.
I wondered why this was happening. In Class Six, one of our teachers introduced us to emerging issues of climate change, which he explained was gradually influencing the weather patterns.
I became interested in knowing more about these changes and how they were occurring. I wanted to know more about this monster called ‘climate change’. When I joined high school therefore, I concentrated on physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics, subjects that would go on to lead me to a career in atmospheric and environmental sciences.
I had a passion for theories of physics too, hence why I pursued a BSc in Physics at university, and then enrolled for a master’s degree in atmospheric modelling.
So far, what has been your step-by-step exposure to this field?
Last year, I participated in a training on urban air pollution modelling using a systematic model (ASAP HDM-4) which is applied in monitoring, evaluating and studying air pollution on urban highways.
The method uses programmed computer simulations to analyse the data collected. You then use the information to determine the level of air pollution.
During my undergraduate internship at the Kericho County’s Ministry of Energy and Petroleum, I developed a small wind turbine which can be used to generate electricity for domestic use as lighting.
I was also involved in setting up the system for biogas digesters. These two projects demonstrate how my career aims to promote clean energy to reduce atmospheric pollution globally.
Take us through what you do on a daily basis.
I am part of the air quality team at the Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology.
We conduct routine air sampling and then do analysis to determine the concentration of different elements in the air.
How would the community benefit from an atmospheric modeller?
I grew up in a rural village where almost every household depends on biomass and fossil fuel for domestic energy supply.
This is still the case in many parts of the country yet communities are still ignorant about the health risks associated with exposure to emission from these sources.
Exposure to outdoor and indoor pollution has been known to cause respiratory illnesses, lung cancer and pulmonary diseases.
This has increased my urge to study air quality in rural dwellings.
My aim is to come up with authentic research findings that can be vindicated, to educate the rural communities on pollution and mitigation measures which can help reduce illnesses.
This will reduce costs incurred for treatment and ensure a healthy and vibrant population which is economically productive.
How is Kenya faring in research?
There is lack of adequate support for research in the country on pollution dangers, leading to inconclusive scientific data. Consequently, this has affected the way the government responds to the problem.
To resolve this, the government should provide sufficient funds and partner with other players to support research activities since through research, we can be informed about the extent of human exposure to pollutants.
We should conserve and preserve the environment as a measure of mitigating for pollutants and emissions.
Also, Kenyans should be ready to embrace pollution control measures such as using clean energy.
What role can your skills play in environmental law implementation?
Information on air quality modelling can advise the need for the national and county governments to create laws that will regulate domestic and industrial practices, and also policies for control, mitigation and monitoring of the levels of pollutants.
What can you tell fellow youth who would like to study your career?
Atmospheric modelling is one of the emerging careers confronting global socio-economic challenges, the intention being to leave the earth in one piece for everybody’s habitation.
Like many physical science-oriented courses, a background in physics, chemistry and mathematics is mandatory.
Have goals, identify what you are good at, and if atmospheric modelling is the career for you, then go ahead and pursue it.
What is your dream after completing your master’s degree?
I’m oriented towards research. My aim is to work with research institutions as I look forward to my PhD.
I also intend to incorporate climate effects on food security within my research studies.
I believe the country belongs to youths. They should embrace education and come up with innovations that provide solutions to different challenges that face our communities.
That’s the best way to gradually change our African society.