25-year old Debo Olaosebikan, aside from being a finalist in the Young Person of the Year Category, won the Best Use of Science award at the 2011 edition of the Future Awards, Nigeria’s most prestigious youth awards. Graduating Summa Cum Laude from the Illinois Wesleyan University with concentrations in Physics and Mathematics, he embarked on a PhD programme having been selected to the Cornell Nanophotonics Group and assigned to work on developing the world’s first electrically operated Silicon Laser, a project supported by a $6 Million grant from the United States Department of Defense. His research interest dates back to 2005 when he worked at IBM on record-breaking magnetic memory storage technology. He has also built an application centered around improving education in Nigeria, which made the final cut in a $100,000 USAID/Western Union Competition (2010) and he is currently in advanced stages of discussion with the Lagos State Government for a state-wide implementation of the technology. In 2007, he founded CATCH AFRICA scholarship competition for gifted Secondary School Students. This young Nigerian scientist who also doubles as a rapper won at a nationwide rap competition hosted by B.E.T. Hall of Famer and ex-Ruff Ryder member Jin in 2006, under previous moniker – “D2dbo”. He has also performed at the Nigerian Consulate in New York (2009) and in D.C. with MTV-featured artist, Phil Ade. In 2010, he released a 17-track Mixtape “Next Level” (2010). In this interview with BN Editorial Assistant, Gbenga Awomodu, he discusses science research, rap music, and Nigeria.
Please let us into your world.
I am Levelz/Debo, a 25 year old rapper and scientist – currently completing a PhD. in Physics at Cornell University in New York and at the same time working on music for fellow Nigerians to fall in love with and relate to. On the way to this point, I lived around a very supportive family that had no problem with me ripping my trousers while doing the splits to MC Hammer songs, right after learning my ratios and proportions from a loving grandfather. This diversity of interests is at the root of who I am and I think it has been encouraged (probably unwittingly) for as long as I can remember. The most exciting days for me, however, were my days at Kings College, Lagos – the laughs, the jokes, the Q.C. girls I bought chocolates for, the night-long study sessions and the boarding house pranks somehow molded me into the person I am today. It still blows my mind to think that I and people like Cobhams Asuquo (producer) and Olumide Adewumi (Gidilounge) were in the same 1995-2001 set and that back then we were just kids having fun, eating our NASCO cornflakes and generally trying to do well in school. I remember my time in K.C. very fondly and I will continue to shower praises on that school even when I am old and grey.
You recently won the Best Use of Science award at the Future Awards. How did you feel, receiving the honour?
It was a very humbling experience. Winning in the Best Use of Science category and being a finalist in the Young Person of the Year category gave me a strong sense of value and appreciation. It felt very good to know that one could do science and technology research and be valued and recognized by one’s people. I also felt that by winning, I represented a whole school of people who would undoubtedly be recognized in upcoming awards. There are many extremely talented Nigerians doing good work in the sciences and because of our tight-knit social network, I felt like in my own little way I would help get more of these people aware of and involved in The Future Project. In addition, getting to meet people like Chude Jideonwo, Adebola Williams, Demola Adesina, Rick Nwanso and Kenneth Oliko, was probably the most enlightening part of the whole experience. I got to see a strong sense of community and dedication to a noble ideal. I saw people working with assembly-line perfection in the sweltering heat of Surulere in order to ensure the success of The Future Project. There aren’t that many twenty-something-year-olds that would spend their golden years spear-heading an effort to change their country in a way that is stripped of vanity and aggrandizement. I applaud these men and I applaud their vision.
Why study Physics in the university?
It is impossible to overstate how important the transistor is to all of modern electronics: from computers, iPads, iPhones, radios and televisions to your MTN, Glo, and Airtel mobile phone lines and your ever-so-special blackberry! Physics and physicists play a very fundamental role in advancing the kinds of radical technologies that push the world forward. They help advance the basic understanding of the principles behind technology and so they tend to receive a very broad training that can be of use in many fields of the physical sciences and engineering. Because I like to be able to solve problems in multiple fields and like to be able to work at the fundamental levels of potentially ground breaking technology, I decided physics was the way to go.
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