As a young elementary school boy growing up at Saltpond, he spent most of his free time at his father's stationery shop where, apart from attending to customers, he read some of the books on sale, especially the biographies of famous scientists such as Einstein, Newton, Edington and Jeans.
This young boy was so intrigued and fascinated by how those great scientists used mathematics to arrive at their discoveries that he resolved to become a scientist, an inventor and a famous one too.
So determined and focused was this lad that without completing middle Form Four he personally went to seek admission at the then newly established Ghana National College in Cape Coast and became the first and only Form One student of the school. His efforts paid off, as many years later that young boy, now Prof Francis Kofi Ampenyin Allotey, was able to realise his dream and is now a scientist of international repute.
Prof Allotey is well known for his theory, "Allotey Formalism". This theory is most relevant to those who go to space. It also attempts to explain what happens when an atom is bombarded by external particles. So for those of you who intend to take Physics further, you will find out that his theory is cited in textbooks dealing with advanced Physics.
Prof Allotey has distinguished himself so well in the field of Mathematics and Physics that he is one of the few Africans to have served on the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEC). In 2004, he became the only African among the 100 most eminent physicists and mathematicians in the world to be cited in a book titled, "One hundred reasons to be a scientist". Because of his remarkable achievement, Prof Allotey is a member of a number of international agencies that deal with nuclear energy. Even at 77, a number of organisations continue to tap into his store of knowledge.
The Junior Graphic met Prof Allotey in his home in Accra to share his childhood story with children and also tell them how he managed to excel in Physics and especially Mathematics, a subject most children dread. And this is what he said: "The secret of Mathematics is to practise consistently. When you do that, the mental block and fear created in the brain about the subject is broken and so you are able to solve more Maths questions." He disclosed that when he first realised he was doing well in Mathematics, he worked more exercises and that brought about his interest in the subject.
According to him, while in elementary school, he sometimes went in for secondary school Maths questions from his friends to try his hands on. “My secondary school friends often laughed at me because they considered me too small to solve those questions”, he recalled.
Apart from his prowess in Mathematics, Francis, as Prof Allotey was called, was also very creative. "I remember when I was in Primary One I created a secret code that I used in communicating with my friend, without anybody understanding what I wrote except my friend. At that level, I also thought of how to produce electricity without connecting it to any wire," disclosed Prof Allotey.
Born at Saltpond on August 9, 1932 where he was also raised, he said he got his first name, Francis, from a Catholic Priest, Father Francis of Saltpond, whom he was named after. “My father was a native of Accra, precisely from Sempe, while my mother was from Saltpond," he added.
Francis started school at age two because he worried his father that he wanted to go to school like his older siblings. His profound interest in school was, however, short-lived when, at age four, several incidents nearly claimed his life. His father, out of fear of losing him, got him out of school. He, therefore, spent the next five years at home, following his father wherever he went, especially to Amissano, near Elmina, where his father had an orchard. On the farm, he recollected that he used to help pluck oranges and lime when they were in season.
Following the intervention of his grandparents, he was enrolled back in school, when he turned nine, at the Roman Catholic Elementary School, Saltpond. Prof Allotey has fond memories of his days at Saltpond and recalled, for instance, that on weekends all the youth of the town took a trip to the bush in search of firewood. "It was like a picnic because our mothers gave us food that we took along but we had to guard it well, else the adults among us will steal it," he said.
Can you imagine that the now calm Prof Allotey, in those days, actually fought when provoked? Oh yes! According to him, they used to fetch water from public standpipes and sometimes the older children did not want to join the queue, which often led to fights.
When Francis got to Standard Six, Ghana's first President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, had founded the Ghana National College, Cape Coast, for those students and teachers who had been dismissed for their participation in the 1948 riots. Because the affected students were continuing students, the school did not have a Form One class.
Francis heard of the establishment of the school and managed to get the school authorities to agree to admit him in the school. After secondary school at the age of 19, he established his own school, known as the Fante Confederacy Secondary School, at Saltpond. After a legal tussle arose over the name, it was changed to Fante State Secondary.
The school, however, collapsed three years later after he had left for further studies abroad. He studied at the Borough Polytechnic, UK, and later at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, where, although he did not hold a degree, he convinced the school authorities to allow him to pursue a Masters programme.
Prof Allotey obtained his Ph.D from Princeton University, where he studied Mathematical Physics. He returned to Ghana in 1960 to take up a lectureship position at the Department of Mathematics at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). Among others, he became the Head of the Mathematics Department, the Founding Director of the Computer Science Department and Pro-Vice Chancellor.
At the national level, he was the Chairman of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, among other positions held. Prof Allotey is married to Mrs Asie Mirekuwa Allotey and they have four children and four grandchildren.