August 9, 2022

Biography, achievements and tribute to Prof. Francis K. A. Allotey – Read at the Francis Allotey Public Lecture

The late Professor Francis Kofi Ampenyin Allotey, often referred to by many as a man with many ‘firsts’ was a Professor of Mathematics and Nuclear Physics. He is arguably the greatest scientist Ghana has had so far. Prof. Allotey is known globally for postulating the “Allotey’s Formalism” from his work on soft x-ray spectroscopy, which is the technique used to determine matter moves in outer space. With this, he honoured and positioned Ghana on the global stage in the scientific space. Apart from decades of public service and contributions to many sectors of Ghana’s development and the world as a whole. Among many positions, he was also a founder and the first president of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) Ghana.

As part of its 10th anniversary activities, the Centre has instituted the Francis Allotey Public Lecture to be celebrated annually, in his honor as a founder of the institution.

Early childhood and education

Prof. Francis Kofi Ampenyin Allotey was born on the 9th of August 1932 in Saltpond to Joseph Kofi Allotey a store keeper and a royal of Sempe, near James Town (a trader and a general merchant who sold books, musical instruments and fishing gear for a living) and Alice Esi Nyena Allotey a dressmaker from the Royal Dehyena family of Enyan Owomase and Ekumfi Edumafa all of blessed memory.

As a young kid, he found the treasures hidden in books and made reading his habit and read a lot about famous scientists in his father’s shop, taught himself mathematics and took an interest in science.

He was raised as a Catholic and started primary education at St. John the Baptist Catholic Boys school in Saltpond at the age of 9.  At 16, Francis persisted and enrolled as the only form-1 student at the Ghana National College founded by Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in July 1948 for students from Addisadel and St. Augustine’s Colleges in Cape Coast who demonstrated for the release of the Big Six who supported his Positive Action Movement.

When he was 19 years in order to satisfy his desires to travel abroad, he travelled alone to Liberia and obtained a British Passport to study in the UK where he attended the London Borough Polytechnic and the Imperial College for his Bachelor’s degree. He did not complete his BSc. because he found the curriculum too elementary for him and opted to do a straight master’s degree at Imperial College. He continued to Princeton University, USA and graduated with a PhD in Mathematics in 1966 when the Famous Einstein was in residence.

Key people who greatly influenced his life are: The Physics Nobel laureate Prof. Abdul Salaam during his undergraduate studies at Imperial College. At Princeton, he was mentored by many physicists such as Robert Dicke, Val Fitch, Robert Oppenheimer, Paul A.M. Dirac and C.N. Yang.

Career and achievements.

If we are to enumerate his achievements one by one, time will not allow us. He was known for the “Allotey Formalism” which arose from his work on soft X-ray spectroscopy which is a technique used to determine how matter works in outer space in 1966, wining him the Prestigious UK Prince Philip Golden Award in 1973. Applications of his findings are in fibre optics and laser technology. He was a founding fellow of the African Academy of Sciences in 1974. He was the first in many of the things he did. He became the first Ghanaian Full Professor of Mathematics and Head of the Department of Mathematics and later Dean of the Faculty of Science at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). He introduced Computer Science education in Ghana was the founding director of the KNUST Computer Centre before he assumed his position as the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University. Among Allotey’s colleagues on the mathematics Faculty at KNUST was Dr. Atu Mensa Taylor (died in 1977), the third Ghanaian to obtain a doctorate in mathematics. Taylor had received his Doctor of Philosophy (1967) from Oxford under the Welsh mathematical physicist, John Trevor Lewis. This friend passed away just 10 years after his PhD and Prof. Allotey deemed his long life as a gift from God.

Allotey was the President of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of International Scientific Organizations including the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) Scientific Council. He was also the President of the Ghana Institute of Physics and the Founding President of the African Physical Society. He was instrumental in getting Ghana to join the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, making it one of the first few African countries to join the Union. He collaborated with the IUPAP and ICTP to encourage physics education in developing countries through workshops and conferences in order to create awareness on the continent. He worked with ICTP to introduce microprocessor technology to scientists in the developing world.  He facilitated the education of several people including the first Ghanaian PhD in computer Science Nii Narku Quaynor in 1977. He was one of the first to use email the address when the internet was introduced in Ghana.

He was involved in the construction of the Weija Dam on the Densu River for water supply in the city of Accra in collaboration with the then Ghana Water and Sewage Corporation and making inputs on the environmental impact of the project.

His travel to Vienna in 1995 with Ghana’s first lady saw to the establishment of Radiotherapy and Nuclear medicine at Korlebu Teachning Hospital and Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital for Ghana to meet her healthcare needs in radiotherapy and oncology in 1998 and 2003 respectively.

This is what his students in mathematics had to say about him, ‘We found him to be a good lecturer who demonstrated a good mastery of his subject and gave him a nickname; Ghana’s Einstein.

Allotey was the Chairman of Board of Trustees of the Accra Institute of Technology, the President of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Ghana which he helped formed with his Friend Prof. Neil Turok. He was an honorary fellow of the Institute of Physics and Ghana Institution of Engineering. He was an honorary Fellow of the Nigerian Mathematical Society among others. He was also the Vice President of the 7th General Assembly of Intergovernmental Bureau of Informatics (IBI). He was also instrumental in the advancement of computer education in Africa and worked closely with organisations such as the IBM International and the International Federation for Information Processing. In 2004, he was the only African among the 100 most eminent physicists and mathematicians in the world to be cited in a book titled, “One hundred reasons to be a scientist.”

When Ghana was hit with drought in the country in the eighties calling for load shedding, he formed the Energy Research Group at KNUST and called for experts from Sweden and Italy on alternate source of energy for the country.

The Professor Francis Allotey Graduate School was established in 2009 at the Accra Institute of Technology. His home was used as a lecture hall and offices for staff and students who needed his tutorship. The institute provided master’s degrees in Business Administration and Software Engineering and doctoral programmes in Information Technology and Philosophy. The Government of Ghana awarded him the Millennium Excellence Award in 2005, and dedicated a postage stamp in his honour. In 2009 he received the Order of the Volta and was posthumously awarded the Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah African Genius Award in 2017.

His efforts through UNESCO for the establishment of the International Year of Light to be celebrated every year worldwide has resulted in the establishment in Ghana a Laser Medical Application Laboratory, a Solar Technologies Research Centre, upgrading of the University of Cape Coast into a fully-fledged Institute for capacity building and a museum of light and light-based technologies. He also pushed for AIMS-Ghana to become a Category II institute in the West Africa Sub Region to promote Mathematical Sciences.

He has acted as external examiner and also as an external assessor for professorial appointments for Universities inside and outside Ghana.

He has been a Consultant to several International Institutions, including United Nations Organization, United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), International Atomic Energy Agency, Intergovernmental Bureau for Information, and United Nations Industrial and Development Organization.

He has also visited many nuclear installations in Russia, Poland, East Germany, Iraq, USA, India, West Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden, Yugoslavia etc. He has been involved locally and internationally on policies and issues related to science and technology for development. Thus, he was a focal for UN Advanced Technology Alert System since its formation. He is a Co-author of the Book “Comprehensive study of Nuclear Weapons”, a UN Secretary General’s Report.

He served as a member and chairman of numerous boards locally and internationally. In these capacities, his highest ambition was capacity building of the staff with skills to improve on the performance of the establishments.

He used his links to source for scholarships for several young people who were willing to pursue excellence in their academic careers. When possible, he provided funds from his own resources to educate them. He discovered talents and created opportunities for his mentees to engage in. He showed his students how to work in global collaboration with scientists around the world. He did not limit his knowledge sharing in high academic circles, he helped assemble telescopes at UCC and provided community view and scientific engagement at the auditorium. Even in his eighties he developed a coconut plantation of Malayan yellows and Srilankan green dwarf varieties which were resistant to Cape St. Paul’s wilt disease that was destroying the coconut trees in the coastal areas in Ghana at Ekumfi Edumafa his mother’ hometown.

He believed that for Africa to develop and able to solve her problems, science and mathematics should be the backbone and wished all Africans were mathematicians. He had a firm belief that the next Einstein will come from Africa.

Personal and family life

Prof.  Francis Ampenyin Allotey came from a family of seven with four girls and three boys. He was the second born.  The children came in this order Martha, Francis, Elizabeth, Augustine, Agatha, Michael and Theresa. The only survivors are Agatha and Theresa currently living in the United States.

Prof. Allotey first married Edoris Enid Chandler from Barbados, whom he met while they were both studying in London. They had two children, Francis Kojo Enu Allotey and Joseph Kobina Nyansa Allotey. Edoris died in November 1981. He then remarried to Ruby Asie Mirekuwa Akuamoah. Together they raised her two children, Cilinnie and Kay. Ruby died in October, 2011. Overall, Allotey had four children and 20 grandchildren. He was a man who loved the extended family system and ensured that his nephews and nieces were well-educated. He personally sponsored the education of several needy but bright students. He was very generous and always had a smiling facial expression. If he is not smiling, then he is thinking about how to move Science and Mathematics on the African continent forward. He loved nature and was always surrounded by trees. He his hobbies were listening to music and watching soccer. The Ghana Black Stars were his favourite teams.

Death and state funeral

Francis Allotey died of natural causes on 2nd November 2017. The Ghanaian Government accorded him a state funeral in recognition of his contributions to the advancement of science and technology in Ghana. His body was interred in his hometown, Saltpond, Central Region.

He is no more with us but he will forever be in the hearts of all who came in contact with him, his immediate and extended families, through his teaching and leadership roles he played in the advancement of Science and Technology in the whole wide world. He is forever in our hearts. May his soul rest in Perfect Peace.

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