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Babatunde Okesola
Babatunde Okesola MRSC

Babatunde’s passion for chemistry research was rewarded when he received the University of York’s Kathleen Mary Scott Prize for his PhD work.

As an undergraduate student, Babatunde found himself studying chemistry by chance after not securing the grades needed to study medicine and surgery -  but he soon discovered chemistry was not limited to beakers and laboratories.

“It is all around us, and the better we know chemistry, the better we know our world. The chemistry axiom – ‘what on earth is not chemistry? ’ is a profound truth that triggered my unquenchable passion for chemistry.”

Babatunde Okesola in the labAfter working hard to understand periodicity, Babatunde graduated from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Nigeria with the best grade in the Faculty of Natural Sciences. Despite his achievement, he agrees “no success comes on a platter of gold. I personally overcame most of the challenges I encountered by leveraging my ability to contextualise chemistry through everyday life examples."

Since graduating, Babatunde secured the Wild Fund Scholarship that partly paid his tuition and moved to the University of York to start his research for his PhD. Working with Professor David Smith on supramolecular hydrogels, he aims to harness the power of supramolecular interactions to assemble novel small molecules into hydrogels.

“Some of the gel-phase materials that I have developed can capture pollutants such as mercury, lead, cadmium and various toxic dyes and remove them from water; hence they are called 'supramolecular envirogels'.”

Not only has his research afforded Babatunde the opportunity to use sophisticated equipment unavailable in Nigeria, it has also inspired a passion for addressing human problems such as water purification systems. For his research, he has been awarded the Kathleen Mary Scott prize by the University of York and in 2013 recognised as a ‘Human of York.’ His work has also been published in reputable journals.

Professor David Smith says “Tunde is a determined and talented scientist who is a pleasure to work with. He is passionate about chemistry research, which has been rewarded with the most prestigious departmental award and several research papers. At the same time, he has done everything possible to support his family, which has the recent addition of a beautiful son. Tunde's drive and energy has been an inspiration to me, and he deserves every success in the future.”

I aim to be a role model to my students!

Babatunde Okesola using his laptopProfessor David Smith is not only a supportive supervisor, but also someone Babatunde looks up to. Describing him as a flexible, sacrificial and generous supervisor, Babatunde says “he always makes me see beyond my deficiencies, especially when I lost my job in Nigeria and could not afford my tuition fees."

From an early age, Michael Faraday, the father of the electronics revolution and chemist, has shaped Babatunde’s life. “Despite his commitment to Christian activities, such as studying the Bible, regular attendance in his church and commitment to his marriage, he was one of the most influential scientists in history. It is important to know that being a scientist is not enough reason for me to be translated into an atheist.”

As a devoted Christian, husband, father, part-time care worker and PhD student, Babatunde juggles his many responsibilities, each with their own challenges. To him, marriage is a blessing and without his wife, Abimbola Okesola, who gave up her white collar nursing job in Nigeria, he doubts his position on the PhD programme would have been possible. At times it has been tough and he admits that “there were numerous moments when we were at loggerheads, especially when I used to work till 10 pm in the lab, but we soon resolved our conflicts.”

Recently Babatunde and Abimbola have welcomed their son into the world, John. “In order not to leave the responsibility of taking care of the baby to my wife alone, I have to leave home late in the morning and return early in the evening. I have adapted the pattern of my life to his, especially by studying at night.” Babatunde’s love for his son shines paramount, balancing being a father and studying for his PhD he emphasises, “in the long-term, gains outweigh the costs.”

Tough time never lasts, but tough people do!

Babatunde advocates the proper representation of the international students within the UK and emphasises the need for opportunities from local funding. With this, he believes that post-doctoral research associates should not be treated as students within the UK and Europe. In fact, if tenure track, which is widely practise in US, is embraced in the UK, it will help build future academics. With many female students finding science subjects exclusively reserved for men, Babatunde agrees there has been a significant reduction in the number of women in chemistry academia.

“Many among those that were courageous enough to break-through hurdles, still need to be encouraged.”

After losing his job and the financial support of his PhD sponsor, Babatunde took up a weekend job in a care home to support himself. “It has really not been easy, as this is the only time I should have for resting. It has taught me that sometimes, we find ourselves in situations we never planned for. When the tough times get going, you need to get tougher.” Babatunde refused to be discouraged and set his eyes on the end goal of being a Doctor. He maintains, “the suffering of the present time is not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in me later.” He advises, “Don’t quit in your tough moment, it won’t last forever and a quitter never wins!”

Words by Jenny Lovell
Images © MPP Image Creation / Royal Society of Chemistry
Published November 2014

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