School of Molecular Sciences graduate student Gafaru Adam dies in accident

Adam, remembered as enthusiastic and sincere, had just arrived from Ghana at the end of July

Gafaru Adam

Gafaru Adam was a doctoral student in the School of Molecular Sciences at ASU. Photo by Mary Zhu/ASU


Gafaru Adam, who arrived from Ghana at the end of July to begin a PhD in biochemistry in the School of Molecular Sciences at Arizona State University, died in a tragic accident off campus on Sept. 13.

“Gafaru was a conscientious student who was very respectful of others,” said Professor Neal Woodbury, vice president of research and chief science and technology officer of ASU Knowledge Enterprise. “In the very short time we had to interact, he struck me as intelligent and inquisitive. The loss of such a promising young person is absolutely tragic.”

Adam (1993–2021) was an alumnus of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, a large metropolitan area in southern Ghana. He completed his undergraduate degree in 2020 with first-class honors in biochemistry.

Adam’s undergraduate research involved the investigation of enzymes that aid crops like maize to resist heat stress.

“Gafaru’s sudden passing is truly heartbreaking to all of us,” said biochemistry Professor Julian Chen. “When I first met and interviewed Gafaru in a Zoom meeting last year in November, I was able to spot his talent and great potential to succeed as a promising young scientist. He was impressively knowledgeable and asked insightful questions.

“When he arrived in Arizona on July 30 this year, he emailed me right away as he could not wait to come to the lab to get started. I had to calm him down and told him that the journey in graduate school is like a marathon and he will have plenty of time to reach his goals. And sadly I was wrong. We had several long conversations about his research interests and projects in my lab. He was so eager to learn and had an ambitious goal of returning to his university in Ghana as a professor in the future. It just makes me so sad that none of his dreams will come true now. Hopefully he at least enjoyed the short time of working in my lab and will rest in perfect peace now.”

Gafaru Adam

Gafaru Adam in Professor Julian Chen's research lab with Li Yang, School of Molecular Sciences assistant research professor. Photo by Andy DeLisle/ASU

In Adam’s own words, “My decision to apply to Arizona State University was because it is a world-class university with an enviable international reputation. ASU is also at the forefront of scientific research, and I am motivated by the opportunity of being trained by SMS’s seasoned faculty, particularly professors Julian Chen, Chad Borges and Mark Hayes.”

School of Molecular Sciences postdoctoral researcher Dhenugen Logeswaran said, “Gafaru was a calm and gentle person who was always politely spoken. In the short time he was in the lab, he showed genuine interest towards scientific discussions and was always very eager to observe other lab members performing experiments and to learn more about their work.

“He was an early bird and was always the first to come in, which was a testament to his enthusiasm towards research. He demonstrated a good grasp on fundamental biochemistry despite being unable to perform lab research during his final undergraduate years back in his home country of Ghana. The untimely demise of this promising young man has instilled deep sorrow in us as colleagues, and Gafaru will forever be remembered for his calm personality and sincerity.”

Adam’s father died when he was 4 years old. His mother had eight children; his siblings are Seidu, Naana, Fatawu, Mulila, Khadija, Halim and Memunatu.

Coming from humble beginnings, Adam would never have made it to ASU without an incredible amount of passion, perseverance and grit. He was truly destined for success.

Adam’s half-brother Yakubu Seidu (an analytical chemistry doctoral student at Wayne State University) helped Adam with his journey to Arizona. He shouldered all the costs regarding his preparation and travel until he finally landed in Phoenix on July 30.

The ASU Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program works closely in partnership with Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Adam’s undergraduate university, to bring students to ASU to pursue an accelerated master's degree. There are currently 42 students from KNUST who attend ASU.

Abubakar Idris is the lead of the Scholars Program at ASU in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. He has been in contact with the School of Molecular Sciences and Adam’s family to support with burial arrangements.

A GoFundMe page was set up by the School of Molecular Sciences Graduate Student Council to aid Adam’s family with funeral expenses.

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