John Bosco Habarulema

South African National Space Agency

2016 Africa Award for Research Excellence in Space Science Winner

John Bosco Habarulema received the 2016 Africa Award for Research Excellence in Space Science at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 14 December 2016 in San Francisco, Calif. The award honors an ­early-­career scientist from the African continent for “completing significant work that shows the focus and promise of making outstanding contributions to research in Earth and space sciences.”


Dr. John Bosco Habarulema from the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) in Hermanus, South Africa, receives the 2016 AGU Africa Award for Research Excellence in Space Science for his important contributions to the monitoring and modeling of the ionosphere over Africa. John received his B.S. from Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Mbarara, Uganda, and his Ph.D. from Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, in 2011. John’s research is concentrated on the understanding and modeling of the temporal and spatial variations of the electron density and the total electron content (TEC) over the African continent with special emphasis on the South African region. Existing ionospheric models were badly lacking in this region of the globe because of limited data availability and the lack of research infrastructure. John supplemented the existing regional GPS data with proxy data based on ionosonde measurements and theoretical considerations and used the neural network technique to develop more accurate TEC models for this part of the world. TEC models of high accuracy are urgently needed by the many applications that use radio waves traveling through the ionosphere. John has also started to use radio occultation data and other Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) data for his research studies. Recent studies include investigations of storm effects and traveling ionospheric disturbances, both areas of high interest and great applicability. Since 2007, he has published papers of high quality at an astonishing rate, over 35 publications in highly regarded refereed science journals.

John plays an essential role in helping to build up the science infrastructure in Africa. He has several master’s and Ph.D. students under his guidance from South Africa and other African countries. He runs the South African ionosonde network and is actively involved with other ionosonde stations and groups on the African continent. He is the vice-chair of the international body in charge of coordinating ionosonde activities (Union Radio Scientifique Internationale (URSI)/­Ionosonde Network Advisory Group), and he is a member of the Committee on Space Research/URSI Working Group on the International Reference Ionosphere.

Since he completed his Ph.D. in 2011, his research has resulted in a better understanding of TEC variations over Africa and in a more accurate representation of these variations in his newly developed models. He is a role model for young African scientists and is very actively involved in supporting young scientists and improving the science infrastructure across the African continent.

—Dieter Bilitza, George Mason University, Fairfax, Va.


It is my utmost pleasure and honor to receive the 2016 AGU Africa Award for Research Excellence in Space Science, established in honor of Sunanda Basu. I am privileged to have first met Sunanda and Santimay Basu during the 2007 International Heliophysical Year (IHY 2007) conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which was also my first attendance of an international conference. Seven years later, I received the 2014 International Sunanda and Santimay Early Career Award in Sun-Earth Systems Science Research from the Space Physics and Aeronomy section of AGU. Thanks, Sunanda and the late Santimay Basu, for your dedication to science and your tremendous support of emerging scientists, especially from developing nations, of which I have become a big beneficiary.

Understanding and modeling spatial and temporal variations of ionospheric electron density in a region devoid of relevant infrastructure is challenging but also presents opportunities to develop innovative techniques of inferring important ionospheric parameters from available instrumentation, especially those that are space based. I am glad that space science research continues to grow on the African continent, thanks partly to the partnership with many international research groups and organizations such as AGU.

Having become a scientist by sheer luck (owing to my humble background), I am grateful for the support from many people along my science journey. From walking over 28 kilometers every day to and from school in pursuit of education, the journey that led me here is a long one! My consistently late arrival at school caught the attention of my then head teacher (the late David Rwarinda) of Kabindi Secondary School, Uganda, who inquired where I walked to school from. The answer of a ­14-year-old trekking 14 kilometers every morning to school led him to welcome me into his home so that I could access school from a short distance. He (and his family) would later support me along with my family in all ways possible to acquire a university education. I wish he were able to witness the fruits of his efforts. I will forever be immensely grateful to him and his family.

I’m very thankful to my Ph.D. mentor, Lee-Anne McKinnell, who provided the support and guidance toward my starting a career in space science research. She availed me with opportunities to meet and work with many scientists all over the world, an avenue that caused me to know my nominator, Dieter Bilitza. Special thanks to Dieter for the nomination and to Ivan Galkin, Michael Pezzopane, and Michael Kosch for supporting it. Finally, I am fortunate to work with very supportive friends, colleagues, and students at the South African National Space Agency.

—John Bosco Habarulema, South African National Space Agency, Hermanus, South Africa