Mathematicians Dr. Fredrick Nyamwala and Dr. Odero Isaiah in their thinking mode and with their sophisticated research equipment

My name is Fredrick Oluoch Nyamwala. I am a DAAD Alumnus with a PhD from the University of Osnabrück, supported with a PhD scholarship to Germany. I am the Vice Chairman of the Kenya DAAD Scholars Association, KDSA and a lecturer in mathematics and Head of Department, School of Biological and Physical Sciences in Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya.

Research work has been greatly hampered by the closure of all learning institutions in Kenya due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government advised everyone to stay at home. Nobody knows how long that will take. My biggest worries were my research and the progress of my postgraduate students who are on scholarships and therefore must complete their studies within a three-year period. I was a worried man.

How can I do research at home? My internet connection is usually very poor, and the only alternative is my mobile phone. With 3G or 4G connections, I knew I would be ready to go. However, mathematics needs serious thinking and at times, just like other researchers, mathematicians have to consult their colleagues to ensure all calculations are correct.  Is there, I wondered, a mathematician close to where I live? I remembered that my immediate neighbour, Dr. Odero Isaiah, is an applied mathematician while I work in pure mathematics. He has been my solace and an accomplice in the crime of cracking mathematical calculations.

COVID-19 has brought extreme sadness to mathematicians around the world: One of the world’s most distinguished mathematicians, Prof. John Conway, passed on due to COVID-19 complications.  As the coronavirus keeps on ravaging the world, I draw my inspiration from this specialist in pure mathematics. He believed that mathematical theorems can be generated through rigorous calculations using bare hands. A story is told of how he bade his wife farewell, as if he was going for a long journey, only to lock himself up in a room to solve a long-standing problem in mathematics. He believed that he would not see his wife for many days. The voyage only lasted for 24 hours. Within that period, all the mathematical problems he had in mind were solved.

My neighbour-turned-research collaborator and I learnt that we rarely need the internet and that most calculations can be done by pen and paper. This is the approach we have adopted since the beginning of April 2020. We have been locking ourselves in a room and working out the mathematical problems. The only difference to Prof. Conway: We have not dared to bid our wives farewell since we need them to supply us with food…..

However, our new research routine is not that easy. There are a lot of distractions. As we were busy generating theorems in our small room that has now been converted into a research centre, my daughter came to consult on some mathematical problems she received as homework. I had no choice but to change from a university researcher to a high school mathematics teacher. Another day, as I was deep into formulating another proof, I received a call from the university insisting on a virtual training for e-learning. This forced me to stop working and turn the research room into a virtual meeting centre.

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