The Zimbabwean scientist breaking ground to make STEM visible in Africa 

Zimbabwean born Nathasia Muwanigwa is now helping scientists, engineers and mathematicians from across the African continent, to give them visibility and inspire future generations.

Based in Luxembourg, she is doing a PhD where she is studying the molecular mechanisms underlying Parkinson’s disease using human stem cell derived brain organoids (“minibrains”).

Before moving to Luxembourg, Muwanigwa lived in Cyprus where she studied Human Biology, with the hope that the degree would be a pre-med degree. However, in her final year when she got to do her own research project at a leukemia research institute, she discovered her love for being in the lab.

“The financial support came at the perfect time because the economic situation in Zimbabwe was getting pretty dire and it would have been challenging if my parents had to pay the tuition," she said.

She added: " I battled a lot of impostor syndrome during my Master’s. My colleagues were all incredibly bright and many of them knew the ins and outs of how research in academia works, and I was still rather clueless.”

Muwanigwa says Africans are one of the least represented on the globe in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), despite making up 16% of the world population.

She said that Africa needs more youth to be interested in STEM fields because they are crucial to the development of the continent.

“We need people with the expertise to solve problems that are specific and relevant to the region.”

Muwanigwa has played a key role in creating the site Visibility STEM Africa (VSA) and the Twitter handle @ViSTEM_Africa to improve the visibility of African researchers.

"We are trying to show that representation and visibility matter," she said.

She said that in recent years there has been an increased awareness of the importance of representation in mainstream media, particularly in the fashion and beauty industry and that STEM fields are no different.

"We are providing Africans in STEM, across many different disciplines, a platform where they can network with one another and create new connections.”

Muwanigwa said that the initiative will also show new opportunities for collaboration.

“The biggest opportunity I see is the potential for collaborations: In science, it has become increasingly apparent that collaborations are necessary for pushing the needle forward.”