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Mak’s Prof Banadda Becomes First African to Scoop Distinguished Pius XI Gold Medal

Project PI-Prof. Noble Banadda (7th R) and the University of Kentucky's Assoc. Prof. Jeffrey Seay (6th R) with other Co PIs and Students show off samples of the bio-diesel made from plastics at the Agricultural Engineering Workshop, MUARIK, Makerere University, Wakiso Uganda. Prof. Banadda is the first African to wint the Distinguished Pius XI Gold Medal

Makerere University Don Prof.  Noble Banadda has been awarded the Pius XI Gold Medal for the year 2018. The award, given by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences based at the Vatican, is in recognition of his outstanding scientific research.

Twenty-eight winners have been awarded the Pius XI Gold Medal since its launch in 1961, but Prof. Banadda will be the first African to receive it. Prof. Banadda is currently the Chair, Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES).

Prof. Noble Banadda, Chair, Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, CAES presents candidates for Graduation at a previous ceremony

Prof. Banadda will make a presentation on his most important scientific research and most honorably receive the Golden medal from the Pope. The Council of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is set to present him the Pius XI Gold Medal 2018 during the next Plenary Session to be held in the Vatican from 12th to 14th November 2018. He was selected by unanimous decision of the Academy Council from among many candidates proposed.

A letter addressed to Prof. Banadda dated 26th July, 2018, indicated that the actual award will take place during the Solemn Audience which the Holy Father Pope Francis will grant the participants of the plenary Session.

Prof. Noble Banadda shows of a previous award-Global Young Academy 2013

“I am very happy to inform you that the Council of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has unanimously decided to award you the Pius XI Medal for the year 2018, in recognition of your outstanding scientific research. On behalf of all our Academicians and the Chancellery I wish to extend to you our warmest congratulations on being chosen from among the candidates proposed.

The medal will be presented to you personally during our next Plenary Session, which this year is addressed to transformative Roles of Science in Society: From Emerging Basic Science Toward Solutions for people’s wellbeing and will be held in the Vatican from 12 to 14 November 2018,” read part of the letter to Prof. Banadda.

Prof. Noble Banadda and other dignitaries at the launch of the MV Mulimi-a multi-purpose tractor on 31st December 2015, MUARIK, Makerere University, Wakiso Uganda

The Pius XI Gold Medal is awarded every two years.  In his previous address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on 28th November 2016, Pope Francis underscored the role and position of scientists in society.

“Very briefly, I would say that it falls to scientists, who work free of political, economic or ideological interests, to develop a cultural model which can face the crisis of climatic change and its social consequences, so that the vast potential of productivity will not be reserved only for the few.

Prof. Noble Banadda (hunching) demonstrates his solar irrigation innovation to the Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda at his offices

Just as the scientific community, through interdisciplinary dialogue, has been able to research and demonstrate our planet’s crisis, so today that same community is called to offer a leadership that provides general and specific solutions for issues which your plenary meeting will confront: water, renewable forms of energy and food security.

It has now become essential to create, with your cooperation, a normative system that includes inviolable limits and ensures the protection of ecosystems, before the new forms of power deriving from the techno-economic model causes irreversible harm not only to the environment, but also to our societies, to democracy, to justice and freedom,” Pope Francis, Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 28 November 2016.

Prof. Banadda attributes all his achievments  to God and all those who prayed for him

Banadda in his response was grateful to God and whoever prayed for him to rise to that level

“Frankly, when I look at the list of previous winners, I am speechless because Hawkings was a global icon in Physics until his death recently. I didn’t apply for it. I am yet to come to terms to this fact that Pope Francis will give me that award on November 14 in a 75 seater room in the Vatican.

They have already sent me the details of everything including the room where I shall meet the Pope! It’s a great honor to me, Makerere University and Uganda, “he said.

Prof. Noble Banadda (2nd R), Assoc. Prof. Jeffrey Seay (4th R) and other members of the Research Team test the organic pesticide (Vinegar) made from agricultural waste like eucalyptus saw dust on an anthill

Banadda however did not comment on how he will be addressed after the award and also does not know what will come with it.

“The Pontifical Academy makes it own search and recommends someone  it suits. I therefore have no clue on how they searched and landed on my name.

The reason in the award letter is Scientific Excellence and I will automatically be admitted to the Pontifical Academy after this award, Prof. Banadda said.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences & The Pius XI Gold Medal

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences was founded on 28th October 1936 by the Holy Father Pius XI, to honor pure science, wherever this may be found, to ensure its freedom, and to support the research essential for the progress of applied science.

The Pius XI Gold Medal was established on 28th October 1961 by His Holiness pope John XXIII to acknowledge outstanding scientific merit in the field of the natural sciences achieved by a young scientist under the age of 45. It was named after Pius XI who, in 1936, restored the Academy that had originally been founded by Federico Cesi in 1603, and gave it its international and global character.

 Past recipients include: R.B. Woodward (1961), B.E. Anderson (1962), A. Bohr (1963), F. Gros (1964), A.R. Sandage (1966), H. Kanatani (1970), G. Nemethy (1972), S.W. Hawking (1975), L. Luzzatto (1976), A. Paes de Carvalho (1979), J.M. Lehn (1981), G. ‘t Hooft (1983), E.A. Benays (1986), L.A. Caffarelli Dehaene (2000), J.M. Maldacena (2002), L. Saint-Raymind (2004), A. Sen (2006), P. Mehlen (2010), T. –J. Chuang and U. Poschl (2012), C. Villani (2014), M. Sigman (2016).


About Prof. Noble Banadda

Prof. Banadda grew up in Kabale, South-Western, Uganda. He went to Kigezi Primary School Kabale then moved to Bugema Adventist College for lower secondary school and Kyambogo College School for Higher school.

He was the first black African to get a PhD in chemical engineering after 600 years of existence of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium); one of the oldest universities in the world established in 1425 – a no mean achievement that opened doors and acceptance to blacks to do a doctorate in Chemical engineering.

He holds an MSc in Processing Engineering from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium) and a BSc Food Science and Technology from Sokoine University of Agriculture (Tanzania).

In 2007, he won the Cochran Fellowship to undertake postdoctoral studies in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA).

In August 2012 he was appointed a full professor at the age of 37 years. This was the first ever in the Department of Agricultural and Bio Systems Engineering at Makerere University and the only one to-date.

 He was the youngest fellow to join the Uganda National Academy of Sciences in 2013 and the only person to qualify to be in both the young and senior academy in Uganda.

In 2015, he was among the only seven Africans that qualified as fellows of the prestigious Next Einstein Fellowship.

Prof. Banadda’s research interests are broadly in mathematical modeling, biological systems and renewable energy. In academia, he has served as a visiting professor in universities in Africa, Europe and USA and supervised several Master’s and PhD theses.

He has authored over 80 peer reviewed scientific papers in international journals and with 1,395 citations on Google Scholar, he is ranked 64th globally and 5th in Africa in waste management research.

Groundbreaking research, technologies and innovations

Prof. Banadda first won a research grant from the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) in 2011 through it Competitive Graduate Research Scheme. His research was on, “Investigating contamination risks associated with wrapping indigenous foods in plastic bags during thermal processing.” The study that sought to address public health concerns found that both black and green polyethylene bags, commonly used to wrap food in Uganda, contained heavy metals in varying concentrations which migrated into food during cooking at different temperatures and their migration increased with increase in temperature and holding time. This therefore exposes people to ingesting heavy metals, though in small quantities, but which may accumulate over a long period of time and cause health problems.

In 2015, he won a second grant to carry out research on “Pyrolysis of agricultural waste for bioethanol production”. The purpose of this research was to produce ethanol from low cost agricultural biomass such as banana peels, straws, plant stalks, stovers and molasses in order to make it competitive as a direct fuel or blended into petrol as an additive. Success of this project will, among other benefits, enhance incomes, moderate fuel prices, attract youth into agriculture, and create jobs.

In March 2016, Prof. Banadda hit media headlines for coming up with a new technology of making diesel from heavy plastics. The demonstration was carried out at the engineering workshop at the university farm at Kabanyolo.  The innovation was the first of its kind in the country and a step towards utilizing waste polythene bags/ plastics and addressing the problem of the hazards caused by poor disposal of polythene bags in the country. The diesel can be used in motor vehicle engines, generators, lighting in the house and lighting charcoal stoves among others. What remains after the chemical extraction of diesel can also be used as manure in gardens to enhance soil fertility.

In July 2016, Banadda unveiled an organic pesticide (Vinegar) from agricultural waste mainly from eucalyptus saw dust that has no human health and environmental effect. This organic pesticide can be easily used by farmers to control pests like the red ants which are a common menace to Ugandan farmers. The organic pesticide was tested and sprayed on various insects and red ants at the Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyolo, where results were impressive. The research breakthrough presents business opportunities for organic farming and export.

Another jubilant moment was when Prof. Banadda crowned the year 2015 by launching the first ever Makerere University MV Mulimi – a multipurpose cost-effective farmer’s tractor. The innovation was launched on 31st December, 2015 at Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyolo (MUARIK) with the aim of providing practical solutions to basic farm problems faced by small scale farmers in Uganda. The Multipurpose tractor has been tested for and capable of performing five (5) tasks, namely; threshing maize to reduce postharvest losses; pumping water for irrigation; charging phones to keep farmers informed of Agricultural produce markets; hauling agricultural produce up to 1 ton and ploughing fields. The university can now fabricate this tractor at a cost of only 25 million shillings.

In March 2017, Prof. Banadda led a research team and developed a solar-powered Irrigation pump as a cheap and reliable solution for small scale farmers. This was launched by the Prime Minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda at his office on Parliamentary Avenue.  The entire system can be assembled at a cost of UGX6.5million. The system is composed of the solar panel (100watts), a battery, a pump and tubes and can efficiently work on surface water although adjustment can be made on the size of the solar panel and water pump to utilize underground water.


Report compiled by;
Jane Anyango,
Principal Communication Officer, CAES

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