SA hosts world science meet


    The “Science for Africa’s Development”
    conference will take place in Durban,
    KwaZulu-Natal, in October 2009.
    (Image: Twas)

    Veronica Mohapeloa
    Department of Science and Technology
    +27 12 843 6788
    +27 83 400 5750
    Patricia Scholtz
    Academy of Science of South Africa
    +27 12 349 6618
    +27 82 550 0757

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    South Africa is hosting the triennial general conference of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (Twas), which takes place in Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal, in October 2009 under the theme “Science for Africa’s Development”.

    The conference runs from 19 to 23 October under the auspices of the Academy of Science of South Africa (Assaf) with the support of South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

    Assaf, an element of the National System of Innovation, was established in 1996 and today, through the Academy of Science of South Africa Act of 2001, is the official body representing South Africa among international science academies.

    The organisation will launch its latest book, The State of Science in South Africa, at a cocktail dinner during the conference. According to Twas, the book provides an overview of all academic disciplines in the country and not only examines their teaching at universities, but also discusses their various uses in industry.

    Over 400 guests will attend the invitation-only conference, which is expected to mobilise South Africa’s science sector to work together, with a view to finding sustainable scientific solutions to national problems. The gathering will also add its weight to global initiatives promoting science and technology.

    The conference always takes place in a developing country. This year’s event, the 11th general conference and 20th general meeting, follows similar events in China (1987 and 2003), Venezuela (1990), Kuwait (1992), Nigeria (1995), Brazil (1997 and 2006), Senegal (1999) and India (2002).

    Distinguished speakers

    The conference starts on 19 October, but is preceded the day before by a number of closed-door sessions for Twas committee members.

    During the main conference, a number of Twas young affiliates will deliver presentations on the physical and biological sciences, with topics such as Increasing threats to forest health in South Africa, Quantum entanglement, and The beauty of mathematics in process integration.

    Research units funded by Twas will also have their say, presenting their findings on topics ranging from genetic susceptibility to disease in African people, to the contamination by arsenic of groundwater in Bangladesh and its disastrous impact on that country.

    Delegates can look forward to lectures by recipients of Twas prizes in 2008, as well as distinguished academics such as Michael Atiyah of Edinburgh University, one of the world’s most influential mathematicians, who will speak on Truth and beauty in mathematics and physics. South Africa’s David Block, professor of astronomy at Witwatersrand University, will also deliver a lecture, titled Naked Emperors.

    Monty Jones, the Sierra Leonian scientist who developed the revolutionary Nerica rice, and South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor, among many others, will also take to the podium.

    Six symposia have been planned, covering the status of science and technology in South Africa; the impact of the global recession on research in developing countries; the status of astronomy in developing countries; human prehistory in developing countries; infectious diseases; and the role of science and technology education in development.

    But it won’t be all work and no play for the delegates. A number of special Twas tours are available for those who wish to learn more about the host country. These will take the visitors to popular Durban attractions such as the Shakaland Zulu cultural village and uShaka Marine World, as well as the Phinda Private Game Reserve and the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve.

    A four-day trip to Cape Town is also on offer.

    In addition, delegates will interact with high school pupils and teachers in Durban and the nearby communities of Empangeni and Port Shepstone. “Meet the Scientists” is an initiative aimed at promoting science as a career.

    Scientific excellence

    Based in Trieste, Italy, Twas is an independent international scientific body established in 1983 by scientists from the developing world. The founding group was headed by the late Abdus Salam, a Nobel physics laureate from Pakistan.

    Twas was officially launched in 1985 by the United Nations secretary-general of the time, Javier Perez de Cuellar.

    The organisation draws on the best science has to offer in emerging nations. Its goal is to boost scientific capacity and excellence in the developing countries of the global South. The Twas office for sub-Saharan Africa is in Nairobi, Kenya.

    Twas has strong links to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics, both of which assist in its operation.

    A new council is chosen every three years. Currently there are three African representatives sitting on the council – physicist Romain Murenzi of Rwanda and engineer Ismail Serageldin of Egypt, both vice-presidents, as well as botanist Keto Mshigeni of Tanzania, a council member.

    To date there are 902 members from 90 countries, all scientists highly respected by their peers. Twas fellows, who make up 85% of the membership, are from the South, while the remainder comprises Twas associate fellows from the North who were born in the South or have contributed to the development of the South.