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Africa Award for Research Excellence in Space Science

Information on the Africa Award for Research Excellence in Space Science

The Africa Award for Research Excellence in Space Science is given annually to an early career scientist from the African continent in recognition of significant work that shows the focus and promise of making outstanding contributions to research in space science.

Criteria for successful candidates includes showing the talent and drive necessary to excel in long careers in space science and their applications for the benefits to society. Established in 2015 by the generosity of Sunanda Basu, this award supports diversity in the Earth and space science community by recognizing excellence in research by African scientists and expanding opportunities for international collaboration on the African continent.

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Award benefits

AGU is proud to recognize our honorees. Recipients of the Africa Award for Research Excellence in Space Science will receive an engraved award, as well as the following benefits:

  • 1
    $1,000 monetary prize
  • 2
    A three-year membership to AGU
  • 3
    Recognition in Eos
  • 4
    Recognition and invitation to present at the AGU Fall Meeting
  • 5
    Award winners are eligible for travel support and meeting registration for AGU Fall Meeting through the Lloyd V. Berkner Travel Fellowship Fund
  • 6
    Two complimentary tickets to the Honors Banquet at AGU’s Fall Meeting


To better understand eligibility for nominators, supporters, and committee members, review AGU’s Honors Conflict of Interest Policy. All individuals must be in compliance with the Conflict of Interest Policy.

  • 1
    Nominators: Nominators must be active AGU members and in compliance with the Conflict of Interest Policy. Duplicate nominations for the same individual will not be accepted. However, one co-nominator is permitted (but not required) per nomination.
  • 2

    Nominees must be: (1) a citizen or permanent resident of countries on the African continent, (2) be within 10 years of receiving Ph.D., and (3) received PhD from an African institution. AGU membership is not required. 

    PLEASE NOTE: Allowances to this eligibility requirement will be considered under AGU's Honors Program Career Stage Eligibility Requirement Allowance Policy. This policy grants allowances to the career stage eligibility requirement based on the following family or medical leave circumstances: childbirth; adoption; personal serious illness; primary caregiver of a person with a health condition, and any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the spouse, child, or parent of the employee is engaged in military service. Allowances for other extenuating circumstances not covered in the above examples (i.e., economic hardship, other career breaks, etc.) can also be considered.

  • 3
    Supporters: Individuals who write letters of support for the nominee are not required to be active AGU members but must be in compliance with the Conflict of Interest Policy.
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Nomination package

Your nomination package must contain all of the following files, which should be no more than two pages in length per document. For detailed information on the requirements, review the Union Awards, Medals and Prizes Frequently Asked Questions.

  • A nomination letter with one-sentence citation (150 characters or less). Letterhead stationery is preferred. Nominator’s name, title, institution, and contact information are required. The citation should appear at either the beginning or end of the nomination letter.
  • A curriculum vitae for the nominee. Include the candidate’s name, address and email, history of employment, degrees, research experience, honors, memberships, and service to the community through committee work, advisory boards, etc.
  • A selected bibliography stating the total number, the types of publications and the number published by AGU.
  • Three letters of support not including the nomination letter. Letterhead is preferred. Supporter’s name, title, institution, and contact information are required.

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Nominations are Open!

The nomination cycle for 2022 AGU Union awards, medals, and prizes is now open until 15 April. Nominate a colleague, peer or student today.

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Olawale Bolaji


Andrew Akala




Frédéric Ouattara received the Africa Award for Research Excellence in Space Science at the 2018 AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held 12 December 2018 in Washington, D. C. The award recognizes an early-career scientist from the African continent “for completing significant work that shows the focus and promise of making outstanding contributions to research in space science.”



After a first thesis about the thermodynamics of African homes, Dr. Frédéric Ouattara chose in 2006 to focus his studies on the relationships between the Earth and the Sun. He participated in the International Heliophysical Year project and defended his state thesis in 2009 on the basis of six articles published in rank-A journals. He currently has 30 publications in well-known journals, such as Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics, Annales Geophysicae, Journal of Space Weather and Space Climate, Journal of Geophysical Research, and Advances in Space Research.

His thesis was titled “Contribution to the study of the relations between the two components of the solar magnetic field and the equatorial ionosphere.” It was defended at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar, in October 2009.

This is the first thesis linking the poloidal and toroidal components of the solar magnetic field to the critical frequency of the F region of the ionosphere, with a direct impact on high-frequency propagation. He trained a team of six researchers in Burkina Faso and is currently developing the University of Koudougou, where he is vice president.

—Jean Lilensten, Institut de Planétologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble, Saint-Martin-d’Hères, France


It’s a great pleasure and honor for me to receive the 2018 edition of the AGU Africa Award for Research Excellence in Space Science. I am grateful to the selection committee for appointing me, a modest Burkinabe scientist from West Africa, for such a distinction. I also show my deep gratefulness to Sunanda Basu for having the bright idea to establish this prize since 2015. I would also thank the present AGU award committee for the necessary measures they took to enable me to participate in the unfolding and famous ceremony. I am indebted to Drs. J. Lilensten from the Planetology Laboratory of Grenoble, A. Elias from the National University of Tucumán, and Le Huy Minh from the Institute of Geophysics of Hanoi, who invested themselves so as to help me apply for this prize for their precious contributions, suggestions, and recommendations.

I defended my Ph.D. oriented on the study of the components of the solar magnetic field and their effects on ionosphere variability at Université Cheikh Anta Diop (Senegal) in 2009 under the scientific direction of Prof. G. Sissoko. I thank the late Dr. O. Fambitakoye, who encouraged me to study space sciences at the school of Abidjan in 1995. After this Ph.D. defense, I created the Energetic and Space Weather Research Laboratory at Université Norbert Zongo. I led a research team at this university on the West African equatorial ionosphere variability. Let me take the opportunity here to thank sincerely the Fulbright Scholar Program for granting me in 2012 a 9-month enriching and beneficial stay at the High Altitude Observatory. I am grateful to the director of this institute as well as to all my collaborators who did their best to make this scientific exchange a real success. I am particularly indebted to Drs. A. Richmond and A. Maute.

My acknowledgments are especially directed toward Prof. C. A. Mazaudier, who supervised my dissertation. I thank Dr. R. Fleury for his collaboration, training, and the ionospheric data. I would like to thank Drs. J. P. Legrand and P. N. Mayaud for our exciting scientific discussions during my stay in Paris.

I cannot end my speech without showing my love to my beloved wife and my paternal love to my children and let them know that the present prize is the fruit of their different sacrifice and understanding.

Glory to the Almighty Good, the Provider.

—Frédéric Ouattara, Université Norbert Zongo, Koudougou, Burkina Faso



Melessew Nigussie received the 2017 Africa Award for Research Excellence in Space Science at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 13 December 2017 in New Orleans, La. The award honors an early-career scientist from the African continent for “completing significant work that shows the focus and promise of making outstanding contributions to research in space science.”



Melessew Nigussie received his Ph.D. in space physics from Bahir Dar University in conjunction with the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Trieste, Italy, in 2014. He is the first Ph.D. graduate of the emerging and rapidly growing space physics program at his university. During his tenure as a student and early postgraduate scientist, Melessew authored a dozen papers providing the first thoughtful characterizations and analyses of the East African ionosphere using an innovative combination of models and ground- and space-based observations from multiple data sources. While answering numerous outstanding questions and raising many new ones, these studies are the first to document morphological and physical aspects of the structure, variability, and instability mechanisms unique to this poorly understood longitude sector and provide a solid basis for continued investigations of this dynamic region of the upper atmosphere. While Melessew’s demonstrated scientific excellence resulted from focused scholarly efforts to obtain his academic degree, it may be serendipity that revealed the outstanding leadership and organizational skills at his command. During the course of his training, Melessew’s thesis adviser, chairman of the Physics Department and founder of the Washera Geospace and Radar Science Laboratory (WGRSL), Professor Baylie Damtie, was promoted to president of the rapidly expanding 40,000-student Bahir Dar University. Dr. Nigussie stepped forward to take over day-to-day leadership of the WGRSL, assuming the principal role for several major projects, including the Blue Nile Coherent Backscatter Radar, and serving as the focal point for numerous international meetings and workshops hosted by the university. In addition to his leadership roles, he teaches and has supervised six master’s degree students and cosupervised three Ph.D. students over the past few years. Since completing his Ph.D. in 2014, his research has led to better characterization and understanding of the equatorial African ionosphere. His leadership role in the Physics Department and research laboratory of his university has contributed to the development of infrastructure and human resources for space physics research in Africa, and he is a role model for young African scientists in the Earth and space sciences.

—Mark B. Moldwin, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; and Keith M. Groves, Boston College, Boston, Mass.


I am deeply gratified to be the recipient of the 2017 Africa Award for Research Excellence in Space Science from AGU, and I would like to express my sincere thanks to the selection committee who gave credit to the application of my nominator. I would like to thank also Sunanda Basu, who had a significant role in establishing this award as a way of advancing the strategic mission of AGU.

I am very happy in the space science research works that I and my group are doing at Washera Geospace and Radar Science Research Laboratory, Bahir Dar University. My main emphasis is to understand and model the spatiotemporal variability of the African equatorial ionosphere, which severely affects transionospheric propagating radio waves and hence the technologies that rely on them. For the works that I have done so far I would like to thank different organizations that have been involved in different ways; for example, Bahir Dar University and T/ICT4D at International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Italy, provided the opportunity for my Ph.D. education. I must also express my thankful feelings to AFOSR for funding my research proposal, through which I and my group are doing very good research at home.

My current scientific career is a result of the contribution of different individuals. During the transition from primary to high school, my educational journey was bumpy (2-year interruption after grade 8); thanks go to my uncle Shite Beyene, who passed away 2 years ago and who assisted me in continuing my high school education, and of course, his wife’s and my parents’ contributions are also undeniable. I would like to express my gratitude to my Ph.D. advisers, Dr. Baylie Damtie (Bahir Dar University), Professor Sandro Radicella (Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics), and Dr. Endawoke Yizengaw (Boston College), who contributed a lot to my scientific skills. I must also express my sincere thanks to Dr. Keith Groves, who nominated me for this award. I would like to thank Dr. Patricia Doherty, Professor Sandro Radicella, Professor Mark Moldwin, and Dr. Endawoke Yizengaw, who are continually helping space science activities to grow and persist in Africa by coadvising Ph.D. and M.Sc. students, sponsoring students and young scientists to participate in workshops, and donating scientific instruments that can be used in Africa. Last but not least, I would like to thank my wife (Metages Walelign) and children (Christian and Michael) for their patience when I leave for scientific work. I appreciate all that has been done for me, and this will glue me more to space science research and related activities.

—Melessew Nigussie, Washera Geospace and Radar Science Laboratory, Bahir Dar University, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

John Bosco Habarulema received the 2016 Africa Award for Research Excellence in Space Science at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 14 December 2016 in San Francisco, Calif. The award honors an ­early-­career scientist from the African continent for “completing significant work that shows the focus and promise of making outstanding contributions to research in Earth and space sciences.”



Dr. John Bosco Habarulema from the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) in Hermanus, South Africa, receives the 2016 AGU Africa Award for Research Excellence in Space Science for his important contributions to the monitoring and modeling of the ionosphere over Africa. John received his B.S. from Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Mbarara, Uganda, and his Ph.D. from Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, in 2011. John’s research is concentrated on the understanding and modeling of the temporal and spatial variations of the electron density and the total electron content (TEC) over the African continent with special emphasis on the South African region. Existing ionospheric models were badly lacking in this region of the globe because of limited data availability and the lack of research infrastructure. John supplemented the existing regional GPS data with proxy data based on ionosonde measurements and theoretical considerations and used the neural network technique to develop more accurate TEC models for this part of the world. TEC models of high accuracy are urgently needed by the many applications that use radio waves traveling through the ionosphere. John has also started to use radio occultation data and other Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) data for his research studies. Recent studies include investigations of storm effects and traveling ionospheric disturbances, both areas of high interest and great applicability. Since 2007, he has published papers of high quality at an astonishing rate, over 35 publications in highly regarded refereed science journals.

John plays an essential role in helping to build up the science infrastructure in Africa. He has several master’s and Ph.D. students under his guidance from South Africa and other African countries. He runs the South African ionosonde network and is actively involved with other ionosonde stations and groups on the African continent. He is the vice-chair of the international body in charge of coordinating ionosonde activities (Union Radio Scientifique Internationale (URSI)/­Ionosonde Network Advisory Group), and he is a member of the Committee on Space Research/URSI Working Group on the International Reference Ionosphere.

Since he completed his Ph.D. in 2011, his research has resulted in a better understanding of TEC variations over Africa and in a more accurate representation of these variations in his newly developed models. He is a role model for young African scientists and is very actively involved in supporting young scientists and improving the science infrastructure across the African continent.

—Dieter Bilitza, George Mason University, Fairfax, Va.


It is my utmost pleasure and honor to receive the 2016 AGU Africa Award for Research Excellence in Space Science, established in honor of Sunanda Basu. I am privileged to have first met Sunanda and Santimay Basu during the 2007 International Heliophysical Year (IHY 2007) conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which was also my first attendance of an international conference. Seven years later, I received the 2014 International Sunanda and Santimay Early Career Award in Sun-Earth Systems Science Research from the Space Physics and Aeronomy section of AGU. Thanks, Sunanda and the late Santimay Basu, for your dedication to science and your tremendous support of emerging scientists, especially from developing nations, of which I have become a big beneficiary.

Understanding and modeling spatial and temporal variations of ionospheric electron density in a region devoid of relevant infrastructure is challenging but also presents opportunities to develop innovative techniques of inferring important ionospheric parameters from available instrumentation, especially those that are space based. I am glad that space science research continues to grow on the African continent, thanks partly to the partnership with many international research groups and organizations such as AGU.

Having become a scientist by sheer luck (owing to my humble background), I am grateful for the support from many people along my science journey. From walking over 28 kilometers every day to and from school in pursuit of education, the journey that led me here is a long one! My consistently late arrival at school caught the attention of my then head teacher (the late David Rwarinda) of Kabindi Secondary School, Uganda, who inquired where I walked to school from. The answer of a ­14-year-old trekking 14 kilometers every morning to school led him to welcome me into his home so that I could access school from a short distance. He (and his family) would later support me along with my family in all ways possible to acquire a university education. I wish he were able to witness the fruits of his efforts. I will forever be immensely grateful to him and his family.

I’m very thankful to my Ph.D. mentor, Lee-Anne McKinnell, who provided the support and guidance toward my starting a career in space science research. She availed me with opportunities to meet and work with many scientists all over the world, an avenue that caused me to know my nominator, Dieter Bilitza. Special thanks to Dieter for the nomination and to Ivan Galkin, Michael Pezzopane, and Michael Kosch for supporting it. Finally, I am fortunate to work with very supportive friends, colleagues, and students at the South African National Space Agency.

—John Bosco Habarulema, South African National Space Agency, Hermanus, South Africa

Honors Contacts

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Artesha Moore

Vice President, Affiliation, Engagement & Membership

202-777-7530 | [email protected]

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Leah Bland

Program Manager, Honors

202-777-7389 | [email protected]

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Rosa Maymi

Director, Engagement and Membership

202-777-7322 | [email protected]

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Hannah Hoffman

Honors and Affiliation Program Coordinator

202-777-7515 | [email protected]