A biochemist at the University of Port Harcourt awarded the 2022 John Maddox Prize

Dr Eucharia Oluchi Nwaichi, a biochemist at the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, has been awarded the 2022 John Maddox Prize for engaging communities in conflict to research solutions to pollution in the oil fields of the Niger Delta. The judges commended her for putting forward evidence and trial methods for soil recovery, courageously advancing public discourse with sound science despite the personal risk.

On being informed of the award, Dr Nwaichi commented:  

“Receiving the John Maddox Prize from such reputable institutions is a huge honour, with a resonating feeling that is hard to put into words. When my husband received the great news, he said ‘the ‘uninformed bully and chauvinists who failed to recognize your work for society have unintentionally referred you to the right people’. Scientists like me are emboldened by this singular award to confront obstacles and ensure credible evidence is used to inform policies for sustainable development.”

The Niger Delta is West Africa’s largest oil producing region, resulting in large areas suffering serious contamination. Research to trial effective ways to clean up the soil (phytoremediation) is urgently needed. Dr Nwaichi convinced local communities and oil companies to engage with the evidence she gathered and take part in the research, despite the intense and often dangerous levels of conflict between them. 

Through her constructive approach using scientific evidence, she has been able to resolve a dispute between local communities and an oil company on the effects of liquid waste on fish stocks in Rivers State, diffusing a conflict that threatened to escalate into violence. She continues to work with local communities to trial new methods for soil remediation despite the intense personal threat to her from representatives of a different oil company whose officials confiscated her recordings and data and objected to the work being conducted by a woman. 

In spite of this, Dr Nwaichi has remains committed to finding solutions to oil pollution and continues to try to find ways to conduct her field work without interference. She and her team are currently working on formulating slow-release nutrients to counter soil exhaustion. 

The John Maddox Prize is a joint initiative of the charity Sense About Science and the scientific journal Nature, continues to attract global nominations from individuals, across the disciplines, who are conducting essential work in standing up for sound science in the public interest and in the face of adversity and opposition. This year 55 nominations were received from across the globe.

The prize is run and funded by Sense about Science, where Sir John Maddox was a founding trustee, and Nature, where he was editor for over 20 years, with support from Clare and Andrew Lyddon. 

Comments from the judges: 

Tracey Brown OBE, Director, Sense about Science:  

“This year, we saw nominations covering scientific evidence in difficult discussions about laboratory safety, testosterone levels in Olympic athletes, and vaccine efficacy among others. It is frustrating that in so many parts of the world people are indulging reactions against research without a thought about how important that evidence and the freedom to discuss it could be. It’s especially frustrating when research institutions don’t defend that space or their researchers. We are delighted that the award goes to Eucharia. She engaged opposing hostile forces in asking scientific questions to make sure solutions would be effective. A refreshing approach in a world where it’s becoming common to stake out political sides around research findings.” 

Richard Webb, Chief Magazine Editor, Nature:  

“Eucharia’s work is an inspirational case of how science, rationality and evidence-based thinking can be used to the common good and for a better world, aspirations which I think John Maddox would have thoroughly approved. It is our pleasure to once again be working with Sense about Science to recognise and reward those who stand up for rigorous science and we are delighted to once again be able to provide an additional platform to such a courageous and inspiring campaigner”.

Professor Yap Boum, Mbarara University of Sciences, Uganda/Cameroon:  

“The winner of 2022 Maddox Prize has shown courage. The courage to speak out, to expose themselves, to expose their family, to expose their community, for something they think was right. But more importantly, by relying on evidence.”   

Professor Dennis Lo FRS, Director, Li Ka Shing Institute of Health Sciences, Chinese University of Hong Kong:   

“Dr Nwaichi satisfies the qualities that the Maddox Prize is set up to reward. She has to face some challenging, difficult problem, got work done despite potential danger to her career and wellbeing, and brings awareness of this problem to the public.”

You are here: Home News & Events Featured News A biochemist at the University of Port Harcourt awarded the 2022 John Maddox Prize