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Prof. Robert Mokaya: The Only Black Professor Of Chemistry In The UK Feted By The Queen

By Kimani Kuria

Prof. Robert Mokaya is a Kenyan born professor of Material Chemistry at the University of Nottingham in the UK and the recipient of the prestigious Officer of the Order of the British Empire award (OBE) by the Queen for his outstanding services to chemical sciences. The scholar is also the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Global Engagement in the same institution. 

In this article, WoK takes a look at his life, education, career journey and the contribution that made him to be globally recognised.

Early life

Professor Mokaya was born and raised in Kenya. 

Also Read: Dr. Patricia Kingori Biography: Kenyan Makes History As Youngest Black Professor At Oxford University

Education background

After successfully completing his primary and secondary school education in Kenya, Professor Robert Mokaya enrolled for  his undergraduate studies in the University of Nairobi pursuing Bachelor of Science in Chemistry.

He graduated from the institution in 1988. The professor later moved to the University of Cambridge where he was awarded his Ph.D in 1992. In that same year, he was elected to a research Fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge. 

Fellowship programs

In 1992, Mokaya was selected for a junior Research Fellowship at Trinity College based in Cambridge.

Four years later, in 1996, he was awarded an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Advanced Fellowship that equips early and already established career researchers with outstanding potential to develop world-leading research that meets UK and global priorities. 


Shortly after graduating from University of Nairobi, Prof. Mokaya kickstarted his career at Unilever Kenya where he worked for a year. While pursuing his graduate studies at the University of Cambridge, Mokaya worked in the laboratory of William “Bill” Jones.

In 2000, he joined the University of Nottingham School of Chemistry as a lecturer in Materials Chemistry.

He climbed up the career ladder so fast and by 2005 he was promoted to Reader in Materials Chemistry. Three years later, he got a second promotion to become Professor of Materials Chemistry. 

Currently Mokaya is a Professor of Materials Chemistry who also doubles as the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Global Engagement, Faculty of VC’s Office at Nottingham University.

He  is also the University’s strategic lead on dealing with international challenges such as Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic. He has diligently and extensively built a successful 16-year career at Nottingham.

Other Career Awards

The professor is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and a founding member of the RSC Pan Africa Chemistry Network. At RSC, he has worked to improve access to, and the impact of, knowledge in chemical sciences to African chemists and researchers in countries across the continent.

His Research work, and Contribution to Chemical Sciences

Prof. Mokaya heads a world-leading research group that has been an instrumental part of a Royal Society programme working to strengthen the capacity of African researchers in designing, synthesizing and optimizing porous materials.

It is in this field that his research interests lie, in studying their structure-property relations and exploring fundamentally new synthesis methods that are simpler, cheaper, and more efficient, targeted for sustainable energy applications and gas storage.

His Publications

Prof. Mokaya has published over 175 articles with more than 13,000 citations all over the world. Here are some of the publications he has worked on;

  • BALAHMAR, NORAH, AL-JUMIALY, ABDUL SALAM and MOKAYA, ROBERT, 2017. Biomass to porous carbon in one step: directly activated biomass for high performance CO2 storage JOURNAL OF MATERIALS CHEMISTRY A. 5(24), 12330-12339
  • BLANKENSHIP II TS, BALAHMAR N and MOKAYA R, 2017. Oxygen-rich microporous carbons with exceptional hydrogen storage capacity. Nature communications. 8(1), 1545
  • COROMINA, HELENA MATABOSCH, WALSH, DARREN A. and MOKAYA, ROBERT, 2016. Biomass-derived activated carbon with simultaneously enhanced CO2 uptake for both pre and post combustion capture applications JOURNAL OF MATERIALS CHEMISTRY A. 4(1), 280-289

Prestigious Awards

In 2017 Mokaya was awarded a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award for the development of alternative energy sources. In January 2022, Prof. Mokaya was awarded the prestigious Officer of the Order of the British Empire award (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II.

This award is the second highest ranking Order of the British Empire, right between Commanders of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). The award is feted to someone for making a great impact in their line of work.

Receiving the award, the humble professor remarked “This is an unexpected honour. I am however very pleased that the work that I and many colleagues, including my students past and present, have done over the years has been recognized in this manner. I recognise that this honour would not have been possible without the support of my wife, Edna, and my family to whom I am particularly thankful.”

The University described him as a role model and mentor to Black tutors, scholars and students in the UK, being the only Black professor of Chemistry in the country.

His Contact information

Room A39 School of Chemistry, University Park, Nottingham

Telephone: 115 846 6174

Fax: 0115 951 3562

Email: r.mokaya@nottingham.ac.uk

Kenyans Congratulating their own

Kenyans sent congratulatory messages to the professor for his outstanding achievements.

The Kenyan High Commissioner to the UK Manoah Esipisu wrote on social media, “Congratulations to Professor Robert Mokaya who has been awarded an OBE in the UK New Year Honours for services to the chemical sciences.”

The Interior Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiang’i was proud to remark, “Hongera, you have made us Flag of Kenya proud”

From the WoK team, this was indeed very well deserved Prof!

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