Analysis revealed that Sudan IV dye (fat-soluble dye) was illegally added to the palm oil to enhance its red colour. The dye is toxic and carcinogenic and food scientists in Ghana are working hard to combat this problem, in collaboration with the FDA. GC-MS and other related techniques like LC-MS (liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry) can really help in addressing these sorts of problems, but without access to the instrument, or the technical skills for how to use it, it is very difficult to solve these problems locally.
My interest in chemistry started when I was in secondary school. Chemistry was my best subject because I had a very good teacher, and I developed a passion for it. I’ve now managed to climb the academic ladder and I am a lecturer in organic chemistry. I also help and mentor school girls studying STEM subjects.
I heard about the GC-MS workshops in Africa through the Pan Africa Chemistry Network (PACN) at a conference in Ghana in 2011, where I linked up with the Royal Society of Chemistry. In 2013, after receiving an email from the PACN announcing the GC-MS workshop in Nairobi, I applied and attended. The workshop was very helpful because it was hands-on. I was able to relate the theory that I had learned to the practical side, which has re-enforced my theoretical knowledge. My teaching ability in organic research methods has also been improved.
After the workshop we were given the opportunity to comment on the training, and I asked the organisers if they could hold similar training in West Africa. This would enable more West African research scientists to participate, which would in turn improve their research and personal development. Fortunately, the PACN selected Ghana as its base for the first West Africa GC-MS training workshop, which was held last year. I was part of the local organising committee in the planning of this remarkable workshop and I also had the opportunity to attend, not as a participant but as a co-facilitator. The idea is to train up local facilitators to take over the running of the GC-MS training in Ghana over the next few years. I am very grateful to the Royal Society of Chemistry for this great support and motivation. This workshop was mainly attended by Ghanaians and Nigerians. We received lots of feedback from them saying how much their research abilities had been improved, and how much they enjoyed taking their new-found knowledge back to the lab.
The training workshop continues this year and Dr Judith Gregory and Professor Anthony Gachanja will be the facilitators. I will be shadowing Judith in the interpretation of mass spectroscopy. I am expecting to build more knowledge and improve my skills in the handling of the instrument. The participants will also receive a real hands-on experience, helping them to understand and apply the ideas that they will learn. They will also have the opportunity to see how the instrument works and learn how to handle it, how to adjust the parameters and how to get the best results. This improved understanding will help all of us with our research work, and, for those of us who are teaching, it will help us with that a lot as well.
It is very important and necessary for institutions in Ghana to have GC-MS instruments, because we have to be doing our own research to help solve our own local problems and challenges. We will be able to do this a lot better once we have access to the analytical instruments and the training in how to use them.
The support from the Royal Society of Chemistry and GSK has helped us to form a network across Africa to share ideas and research findings, as well as planning ahead to see how best we can develop chemistry in Africa.