Niger: Fadji Zaouna Maïna, from Zinder to NASA

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At 29, Fadji Zaouna Maïna is the first Nigerien scientist to join NASA. A success that makes her a model in her country.

Fadji Zaouna Maïna, the first Nigerien scientist to join the very prestigious National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) in the United States, realized a childhood dream while becoming a national symbol.

Since she joined the US space agency on August 27, congratulations have been raining down from all sides. The Nigerien president, Mahamadou Issoufou, even called her on September 2 to congratulate her and tell her, too, that she was now a "national pride that should serve as a model for Nigerien youth".

"I pushed the limits"

The 29-year-old scientist is fully aware of what she stands for. “I pushed the limits, I made it possible and I made a whole country proud, she reacted. The chances for a girl like me, born and raised in Zinder, to become a scientist in an institution like NASA are almost nil. "

“Since I was little, I have always wanted to work at NASA. However, when you are born in Zinder, you do not necessarily have access to information, as is the case in Niamey. So I had this dream, but I didn't know where to start, or what path to take to achieve it, ”explains Fadji Zaouna Maïna to Young Africa.


Today, she sees herself more as a pioneer than a symbol. "I want more and more Nigerian women to work in science, to follow the same path as mine and soon join me at NASA."

From Zinder to Berkeley

Its journey of excellence starts in Zinder. After a brilliant education - she skipped several classes - she obtained the baccalaureate at the age of 16. “My family has always supported me in my studies,” she insists. Since I was little, everyone around me has encouraged me. "

At the same time, the young high school student from Zinder gets involved in politics. Elected junior member of the National Youth Assembly of Niger, she advocates for girls' education and empowerment. And if, at the time of higher studies, she chooses the hydrology sector, it is "to participate in improving the conditions of access to drinking water in Niger".

After a degree obtained at the University of Fez, in Morocco, she continued her studies in France, at the University of Strasbourg. There she obtained her doctorate in hydrology. She then worked in several prestigious laboratories, notably within the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), before joining the Division of Energy Geosciences at the University of Berkeley, in the United States.

Climate whistleblower

His work on the combined impact of climate change and pollution on water resources has earned him a place in the prestigious Forbes 2019 ranking of the 20 scientists under 30 with the most ambitious research projects.

It was in November 2019 that she was spotted by NASA headhunters. She has just published a very noticed article analyzing regional vulnerabilities in the face of climatic extremes, focusing more specifically on the case of California, ravaged by titanic fires.

At NASA, she joined the team which works in particular on data from the GRACE satellite (Gravity Recovery Climate Experiment). “I will try to better understand the water cycle and the evolution of water resources in the context of climate change using mathematical models and data from NASA satellites,” explains the scientist.

If she does not plan, for the time being, to leave the United States to return to Niger, Fadji Zaouna Maïna nonetheless maintains strong ties with her country. She works in particular with a local NGO, OASIS, which works in the fields of education and the emancipation of women. It also supports young researchers from the University of Niamey in their work.

And, while Niamey is confronted with very serious floods - on September 7, the death toll was 57 dead and nearly 300 victims - it is also sounding the alarm. "These floods, which are now exceptional, could be the norm in the future," she warns. We should build a resilient environment taking into account the interactions between climate, people, and the environment. "

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