Inioluwa Afolabi is from Ogbomoso, Nigeria, studying for a one-year MPhil in Chemistry at Churchill. Her research area uses computational techniques to investigate the properties of graphene-based material for CO2 capture. She is also a Mastercard Foundation Scholar.

I’m passionate about the environment and environmental sustainability, and I’m looking at how I can use computational techniques such as machine learning, to solve real-world environmental problems.

The daughter of a farmer and a school administrator, Inioluwa grew up with three siblings in a low-income family. Education was highly prized by her parents and Inioluwa recalls that they sacrificed most of their income and subsisted on loans to pay for their children to attend the local private school. All four went on to study at university but Inioluwa is the first person in her family to progress to postgraduate study.

Inioluwa’s journey to Cambridge

Before joining Churchill College, Inioluwa completed her undergraduate degree in Chemistry at the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology. She originally applied to study medicine but an unexpected backlog in medical school places led to her being offered a place to study chemistry instead. At the time she was devastated and planned to transfer to medicine later, but once she began her studies there was no turning back. She developed a passion for the subject and flourished, achieving first-class results. Learning chemistry was quite abstract, but she loved the challenge, and she grew increasingly interested in how she could apply what she was learning to solve real-world problems.  

In her third year, Inioluwa attended a seminar about research which sparked her interest in research and making scientific contributions through publications. Determined to ‘fill the knowledge gap’ she perceived she had in this area, she volunteered to be the speaker’s research assistant, who was also her undergraduate supervisor. She was also supported by her partner who encouraged her to volunteer with people in chemical-related fields and make contributions through publications. The couple married in 2020 and relocated to the UK while he studied for his PhD at Manchester Metropolitan University. Inioluwa was keen to progress, but it was difficult to secure a skilled job and she didn’t have the financial capacity to undertake further study. It was only by chance that she found out about the Gates Cambridge Scholarship programme through a meeting with her partner’s PhD supervisor. By this time, Inioluwa was expecting her first child, so she decided to apply later. When she did apply, her application was put forward by the Cambridge Trust for a new opportunity, the Mastercard Foundation Scholars program

The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program specifically supports African students and helps them finance their studies to join world-renowned universities. Inioluwa’s scholarship covers her tuition fees and maintenance fees and other expenses including maintenance costs for her daughter, as well as providing mentoring services and career opportunities. Inioluwa is clear about the transformative opportunity the scholarship has provided, describing it as a “life-changing breakthrough” that brought her into “the space of endless possibility”. She’s already seeing chemistry in a new light because of the innovation, high-quality research, and resources available to her at Cambridge

Inioluwa lives on-site at the College in the Wolfson Flats with her 17-month-old daughter Toluwanimi Popoola and her partner Dr Segun Popoola, who works as a Lecturer in Computing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is clear about the benefits of being at Churchill College in particular:

What I like most about the College is firstly the support that I have received from all the staff, from the porter to the postgraduate admission team, and that is not only for me but also includes my partner who lives on the college site. Churchill College is relatively spacious and family-friendly, with family accommodations, and a playground where kids can socialise making it the perfect place for me to be. 

In her spare moments outside her busy academic and family life, Inioluwa enjoys spending time doing park runs with her research group members, several of whom are also based at Churchill. She has developed an interest in running – something that is easy to do with the spacious College grounds on her doorstep! Looking ahead, Inioluwa’s dream is to continue with a PhD at Churchill so she can continue using her research to identify materials that will help solve the climate change problem we face today.

Further information

Mastercard Foundation African scholars tackle climate change at Cambridge | University of Cambridge

Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at the University of Cambridge | Postgraduate Admissions