CSD-Educators: Marielle Agbahoungbata from X-TechLab in Benin

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Written by

Suzanna Ward

Posted on

January 27, 2021

For this CSD Educators blog it is my pleasure to welcome Marielle Agbahoungbata and to highlight the work she has done with her colleagues to help establish the X-TechLab in Benin. Marielle gained her PhD in inorganic chemistry and since 2014 has been involved in developing a network of crystallographers in Africa. Marielle is the coordinator of the X-TechLab in Benin which aims to provide hands-on training in X-ray techniques in order to provide African scientists with the means to develop solutions for the sustainable development of the continent. The first training session that X-TechLab team organised was held in May 2019 and I was lucky enough to join the second session in Benin in November 2019. That session saw a classroom full of participants from Benin and across Africa learn about X-ray diffraction. During the sessions on the Cambridge Structural Database the students were engaged and eager to learn and I felt privileged to be a part of it.  A few months ago, the CCDC participated in our second X-TechLab training sessions, this time remotely. Again, it was fantastic to see how engaged the students were. In this blog Marielle will tell us more about the X-TechLab and how the team is striving to disseminate science and bridge scientific and entrepreneurship communities through the initiative.


From Marielle Agbahoungbata from the X-TechLab

X-TechLab is a regional training platform dedicated to the use of X-ray techniques for scientific and technological research related to development issues specific to the African continent. It is established within the Sèmè City hub, one of Benin Government’s flagship projects, which aims to create a world-class knowledge and innovation center in Africa.  The overall objective of X-TechLab is to endow the local and regional scientific communities with technical skills that will allow them to use X-rays techniques as tools for solving specific critical socioeconomic issues.  Also, this program is expected to train a breeding-ground of experts that will animate and contribute to the African Synchrotron Project.



The training includes both theoretical and practical courses with a very strong emphasis on practical aspects. The program is structured around 2 tracks: Crystallography and X-ray diffraction techniques, including both single and powder diffraction applied to structural studies; and Absorption and phase contrast X-ray imaging (tomography) using mathematical tools for research on sustainable and ecological materials. The attendees are trained for 2 weeks, twice per year. Candidates from all countries are welcome but qualified applicants from African universities are prioritized.

The 1st edition was held in 2019, gathered about 60 learners (PhD students, Postdocs, lecturers, Engineers & Graduate students) from 8 African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Senegal and Togo) and eighteen (18) Experts from several academic institutions worldwide. Two sessions were organized in May and November, each over two weeks.

One important achievement from this first edition is the determination of a new crystal structure. This new molecule was synthesized by one of the participants, Dr. Hyacinthe AGNIMONHAN, from the Faculty of Science and Technology of Université d’Abomey-Calavi. See more details at  https://urlz.fr/eJgw

The 2020 X-TechLab training Session was held in the Sèmè City high-tech complex in Cotonou, Benin, from November 16 to 27.  There were 30 participants from Benin, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria and 20 lecturers from Benin, Botswana, France, Italy, Jordan, Panama, Spain, Switzerland, UK, and USA. The students were on site while the lecturers were online. The training program covered several topics in crystallography (fundamentals of x-ray crystallography, crystal symmetry, X-ray diffraction theory and experiment, crystal structure solution and refinement, crystal growth techniques, tutorials on the use of both single crystal and powder diffractometers, databases, etc.) and mathematical engineering (image correlation methods, mathematical morphology and image analysis, continuum mechanics theory, damage and fracture mechanics, heat conduction, thermal properties measurements, energetic modelling, mechanical tests and measurements, etc.). This time again a new molecule structure was solved! A special mention: the number of female participants which went from 3 during the first 2 sessions to 9 for the third session.


From top left to the right:
The first structure original entirely solved in Benin by Dr Hyacinthe HAGNIMOHAN.
Second edition of the X-TechLab training sessions
S-(+)-carvone salicylhydrazone - structure resolved during the second training edition - November 2020
From bottom left to the right:
Result of the microtomography analysis of a sample of teak wood from Benin.
Closing ceremony - delivery of certificates to a participant by Prof Virgile AHYI - IRGIB Africa
Closing ceremony - delivery of certificates to a participant by Prof Thierry d'ALMEIDA - Director of the Research and Education Department of Sèmè City.


Science dissemination: Implementation of systems to interest the younger generations.


This is a fun way to put into practice the theoretical concepts taught in class. An example is the organization of a training program titled “Initiation to Crystallography and crystal symmetry” at the Faculty of Science and Technology (FAST) of the University of Abomey-Calavi in July 2020. The audience consisted of students from the 1st and 2nd level in physics and chemistry (PC). During the tutorials, the students studied the basics of crystal lattice, including such topics as translations and inversions. First, the students built their own motifs following a guideline and then they used the motif for paving a plan using translation and inversion as symmetry operations (crystallographic group P1 and P2) in order to get some wallpapers. In addition, some of them built crystal unit cells using recycled materials. These unit cells were used by the instructors to show students how the crystal lattice is built up by repetitive translation of the unit cell along its principal axes. The program has reached over a thousand students. See more here https://urlz.fr/eJh2


Closing ceremony - delivery of certificates to a participant by Mrs Claude BORNA - Director of the Sèmè City Development Agency.


Scientific and technical support to entrepreneurs: This activity serves as a bridge between the scientific community and entrepreneurs.

The challenge is to get researchers, startups, and professionals to work together to create Made in Africa innovation solutions to address social economic issues.



Practical Work with the Department of Chemistry of the Faculty of Science and Technology (FAST) of the University of Abomey-Calavi in July 2020


In addition to the conference we organized in November to launch the 2020 X-TechLab training session, we had the honor to participate in the CCDC User Group Meeting  (you can watch Thierry d’Almeida’s talk at the CCDC UGM here) and the African Light Source -Virtual Workshop AFLS2020 (http://events.saip.org.za/event/afls2020).



Online Live conference, training session https://urlz.fr/eJi5


X-TechLab aims to be a feeder facility, available throughout the year in order to assist and support the regional scientific community with their projects. Significant efforts are underway to equip the X-TechLab while additional funding is needed to achieve the goals. To support X-TechLab, is to support the development of science in Africa!


Join us for our Educators User Group Meeting on the 16th and 17th of March to learn and reflect on Digital, shared global learning. Find out more about this meeting and save your place here.


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