Melessew Nigussie

Washera Geospace and Radar Science Research Laboratory, Bahir Dar University

2017 Africa Award for Research Excellence in Space Science Winner

Melessew Nigussie received the 2017 Africa Award for Research Excellence in Space Science at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 13 December 2017 in New Orleans, La. 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 space science.”


Melessew Nigussie received his Ph.D. in space physics from Bahir Dar University in conjunction with the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Trieste, Italy, in 2014. He is the first Ph.D. graduate of the emerging and rapidly growing space physics program at his university. During his tenure as a student and early postgraduate scientist, Melessew authored a dozen papers providing the first thoughtful characterizations and analyses of the East African ionosphere using an innovative combination of models and ground- and space-based observations from multiple data sources. While answering numerous outstanding questions and raising many new ones, these studies are the first to document morphological and physical aspects of the structure, variability, and instability mechanisms unique to this poorly understood longitude sector and provide a solid basis for continued investigations of this dynamic region of the upper atmosphere. While Melessew’s demonstrated scientific excellence resulted from focused scholarly efforts to obtain his academic degree, it may be serendipity that revealed the outstanding leadership and organizational skills at his command. During the course of his training, Melessew’s thesis adviser, chairman of the Physics Department and founder of the Washera Geospace and Radar Science Laboratory (WGRSL), Professor Baylie Damtie, was promoted to president of the rapidly expanding 40,000-student Bahir Dar University. Dr. Nigussie stepped forward to take over day-to-day leadership of the WGRSL, assuming the principal role for several major projects, including the Blue Nile Coherent Backscatter Radar, and serving as the focal point for numerous international meetings and workshops hosted by the university. In addition to his leadership roles, he teaches and has supervised six master’s degree students and cosupervised three Ph.D. students over the past few years. Since completing his Ph.D. in 2014, his research has led to better characterization and understanding of the equatorial African ionosphere. His leadership role in the Physics Department and research laboratory of his university has contributed to the development of infrastructure and human resources for space physics research in Africa, and he is a role model for young African scientists in the Earth and space sciences.

—Mark B. Moldwin, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; and Keith M. Groves, Boston College, Boston, Mass.


I am deeply gratified to be the recipient of the 2017 Africa Award for Research Excellence in Space Science from AGU, and I would like to express my sincere thanks to the selection committee who gave credit to the application of my nominator. I would like to thank also Sunanda Basu, who had a significant role in establishing this award as a way of advancing the strategic mission of AGU.

I am very happy in the space science research works that I and my group are doing at Washera Geospace and Radar Science Research Laboratory, Bahir Dar University. My main emphasis is to understand and model the spatiotemporal variability of the African equatorial ionosphere, which severely affects transionospheric propagating radio waves and hence the technologies that rely on them. For the works that I have done so far I would like to thank different organizations that have been involved in different ways; for example, Bahir Dar University and T/ICT4D at International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Italy, provided the opportunity for my Ph.D. education. I must also express my thankful feelings to AFOSR for funding my research proposal, through which I and my group are doing very good research at home.

My current scientific career is a result of the contribution of different individuals. During the transition from primary to high school, my educational journey was bumpy (2-year interruption after grade 8); thanks go to my uncle Shite Beyene, who passed away 2 years ago and who assisted me in continuing my high school education, and of course, his wife’s and my parents’ contributions are also undeniable. I would like to express my gratitude to my Ph.D. advisers, Dr. Baylie Damtie (Bahir Dar University), Professor Sandro Radicella (Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics), and Dr. Endawoke Yizengaw (Boston College), who contributed a lot to my scientific skills. I must also express my sincere thanks to Dr. Keith Groves, who nominated me for this award. I would like to thank Dr. Patricia Doherty, Professor Sandro Radicella, Professor Mark Moldwin, and Dr. Endawoke Yizengaw, who are continually helping space science activities to grow and persist in Africa by coadvising Ph.D. and M.Sc. students, sponsoring students and young scientists to participate in workshops, and donating scientific instruments that can be used in Africa. Last but not least, I would like to thank my wife (Metages Walelign) and children (Christian and Michael) for their patience when I leave for scientific work. I appreciate all that has been done for me, and this will glue me more to space science research and related activities.

Melessew Nigussie, Washera Geospace and Radar Science Laboratory, Bahir Dar University, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia