Ibrahim Cissé unlocks cells' secrets using physics
11/7/2018 10:29:59 AM
Ibrahim Cissé expected to join his father’s law firm one day. “There were no scientists where I grew up in Niger,” says the MIT biophysicist. “I certainly didn’t know [science] was a profession one could do.”
But Cissé’s parents had a telling clue about their young son’s eventual career path: a door sign he made that read “Laboratoire de Cissé.”
Cissé learned about experiments in books, but his school in Niger’s capital city of Niamey didn’t have a lab. So, when he was about 10 or 11, he converted a storage room in his family’s house into an experimentation space. Behind that handmade sign, he tore apart electronics, rewired them, built new things with the parts and dreamed about becoming an astronaut on the space shuttle.
“People knew that anything that went into my lab was fair game for me to break apart,” he says.
At 17, Cissé moved to North Carolina to learn English. Later, on registration day at North Carolina Central University in Durham, a historically black college, a physics professor quizzed him about math and science and suggested Cissé major in physics. Then came the magic words: “We have a grant from NASA.” Recalling his cosmic childhood dreams, Cissé became a physics major.