Carolina Ödman-Govender

Chief Scientist, Thumbzup

Dr Carolina Ödman-Govender started off wanting to be a thinker in high school, but pointless philosophical talk eventually frustrated her.

One day a teacher broke through the ice by explaining E=mc2 in a way she found clear and approachable, and her love and inimitable drive for science was born.

Ödman-Govender, who is now chief scientist at Thumbzup, the local startup developing the Payment Pebble, and also an associate scientist of SKA Africa, has not taken a direct route to astrophysics, the field in which she completed her doctorate, but has been involved as a research engineer in computational fluid dynamical modelling of blood flow and evaluation of vascular grafts, and has been a consultant for the UNESCO World Report on Building Knowledge Societies.

She was also the international project manager of Universe Awareness (UNAWE).

She says the people who have made the greatest impact on her were the ones who have let her down: “Those people have taught me resilience and flexibility and the strength to move on.”

She has worked in many scientific areas – some by choice, some by chance – and loves the multitude of perspectives that her non-linear career has given her.

She says she has had the privilege of access to some of the best institutions of the world, but on the other hand “when something is a challenge for someone who is not expected to have ‘problems’ your credibility can crumble and people’s assumptions can get in the way.”

Ödman-Govender, as the recipient of a number of accolades, interprets them as leading to more opportunities.

“After all, I wouldn’t do the work if I did not think it was a good idea, and good ideas need to be shared,” she muses.

To the youth, her advice is to get addicted to learning. “What a thrill to be able to do something you didn’t know how to do before. Wherever you find yourself, there is always something to learn.” — Ilse Ferreira