Break the science myth — Ghanaian NASA engineer

BY: Musah Yahaya Jafaru
Dr Ashitey Trebi-Ollenu

A Ghanaian robotics engineer with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States (US) has stated that Science and Technology hold the key to the transformation of developing countries, including Ghana.

Dr Ashitey Trebi-Ollenu has, therefore, called on developing countries to invest substantially in Science and Technology to make a difference in the living conditions of their people.

He urged the youth to shy away from the perception that Mathematics, Science and Engineering were difficult subjects reserved for a select few.

Answering questions on a BBC talk show hosted by Claudia Hammond yesterday, Dr Trebi-Ollenu, who is Group Leader and Robotics Engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said, "With time and technology, we can solve every problem. We can solve every problem if we put our minds to it."

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Break the science myth

He expressed worry that people held the wrong perception that Science and Technology were very difficult subjects.

He explained that Science and Engineering could be learnt by everybody who could dedicate his or her time to them.

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"I get upset when people say that Maths is difficult, that there is a myth about Engineering and the sciences. It is not true. We have to engage the youth to break the myth. With practice, they will get better," he said.

Ghana Science project

Dr Trebi-Ollenu said the JPL had started a project to encourage students in Ghana to pursue Science and Engineering.

He said the project began with 100 students and indicated that the number had increased to more than 1,000. His joy, he said, was that half of that number were females.

Through the project, he said, many of the students had expressed their willingness to set up their own businesses upon the completion of their respective courses.

Robots in homes

The engineer said currently there was no technology to send human beings to Mars to do exploration, for which reason NASA now sent robots to that planet.

"The most efficient way is human exploration and that is what we are working on," he said.

On the functions of robots, Dr Trebi-Ollenu said he thought of robots as teenagers, saying, "Robots are super obedient."

He said an engineer always had anticipation whether the robots were going to work as planned and he felt excited if they worked out well.

He said there was the possibility that the number of robots at workplaces and in homes would increase in the next few years.


Dr Trebi-Ollenu's current research at the JPL focuses on planetary rovers, manipulation, multiple mobile robots, reconfigurable robots  and man-machine interaction.

He currently works on the InSight Mission as instrument deployment systems engineer.

He was part of the team at NASA that worked to land a huge new robot rover on Mars.


Born in Accra, Dr Trebi-Ollenu attended the Garrison Primary School at Burma Camp and the Ghana Secondary Technical School in Takoradi for his GCE Ordinary and Advanced levels.

He earned his B.Eng. (Hons) in Aeronautical Engineering from the Queen Mary College, University of London, and a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from the Royal Military College of Science, Cranfield University in the UK.