Arab women scientists mourn the loss of Syrian researcher

April 24, 2013

Rehab Abd Almohsen

Rehab Abd Almohsen
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


While the armed conflict in Syria is closing its second year, a gathering of more than 100 Arab women scientists in Kuwait take this as chance to remember the loss of their Syrian colleague, scientist Ahlam Imad who were assassinated by armed groups in June 2011.

The professor at the Faculty of Petrochemical Engineering Faculty at al-Baath University in Homs was killed when a group of gunmen broke into her family house and shot her down along with five of her family members, including three children.

“She was one of the active members of the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World [OWSD] and just before she died she was about to establish a national chapter of OWSD in Syria,” Rokshana Ismail, chemistry professor in Aden University told the attendees of the International conference on Women in Science and Technology in the Arab Countries   (21-23 April), in Kuwait City.

Imad is not the only scientist that was killed during the last two years in Syria, a nuclear scientist Aws Abdul Karim Khalil assassinated in Homs in September 2011, the science professor and missiles expert Nabil Zougheib was killed with his wife and two sons on 21 July 2012 in Damascus, Issa Al Khouli, head of Hamish military hospital was killed in Damascus in February 2012.

This blog post is part of SciDev.Net’s coverage of International conference on Women in Science and Technology in the Arab Countries which takes place 21-23 April 2013, in Kuwait City, Kuwait. To read further news and analysis please visit our website.

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Engineering crucial for sustainable development, poverty reduction

June 14, 2012

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
Deputy news editor, SciDev.Net


Engineering organisations from around the world – consisting of some two million engineers in total – have supported the UN secretary general’s Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, it was announced today at the forum.

These include institutes and organisations from Chile, India, Malaysia, Maurititus, South Africa and Zimbabwe, as well as the Society of Women Engineers.

“Engineers did more than any other profession to improve the quality of life over the past century,” Gordon W. Day, president of IEEE said. He gave examples of energy, computing, health and transportation technologies.

Engineers are keen to complete “the unfinished business” – providing basic technologies and amenities, such as electricity, to people around the world.

“Access to technology is one of the principle distinguishers between a rich country and a poor one.”

India and Sub-Saharan Africa consume only a third of the world’s average energy consumption – bringing them up will require much more energy creation, presenting a challenge to engineering, he said.

To boost innovation it is fundamental to create skilled high-tech workforce drawing upon talents of citizens – and this requires strong education system.

“Innovation comes form people, not from institutions – companies, governments, universities don’t innovate – people innovate.”

Success examples of countries achieving this are Korea, Singapore, China, India and Brazil.

And there is still a need to attract more women to engineering, he said. “If you want to stimulate innovation you cannot ignore half of the population – you need to attract all the best minds.”

“Without science engineering would have no roots, but without engineering science would bear no fruit. They’re both critical to our future.”

Engineers are creative in the same way as artists are, he said.

“They imagine what could be and then they proceed to create it – it really does create the world that never before existed and it produces the fruits of science.”

Gretchen Kalonji, head of natural sciences at UNESCO said: “Engineering has a vitally important role to play [in sustainable development]… to make sure the products of research are translated into real products, real services, that can improve people’s lives.”

“It’s indispensable to getting things done with respect to these challenges [of sustainable development],” she said. “Poverty eradication without engineers is very difficult to envision.”

And engineering is also a “major job creator”m Kalonji added.

A group of enthusiastic engineering students from Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro, which is hosting the forum, said it was important to go out and change things by engaging with activists and local projects as well as communicating their knowledge with the society. “Let’s go out and do it,” one of them said

This blog post is part of our Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development blog which takes place 11-15 June 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.


Sustainable development through comics

April 20, 2012

Luisa Massarani

Luisa Massarani
Latin America regional coordinator, SciDev.Net


Communicating science in Mexico, as in any developing world country, can be a big challenge. Most of Mexico’s estimated 100 million inhabitants have only received eight years of basic education. For every 100 inhabitants over the age of 15 years, eleven females and seven males are illiterate.

On the other hand, comics are enormously popular in Mexico. Having this situation in mind, Aquiles Negrete, a researcher at the Autonomous National University of Mexico, has been describing his exploration of the use of comics to communicate science issues at PCST.

An image from the comic, "Sustainable Love"

His Sustento de amor (sustainable love) comic is a love story that uses visuals and a skilled narrative to disseminate information about sustainable development and natural resources  in Mexico and Central America.

Negrete has also developed what he calls the ‘RIRC’ method to evaluate the project, which uses four memory tasks, and  explores different levels of understanding.

“Our results show that comics can be an interesting tool for communicating science,” he says.

Also from Mexico, Rolando Riley from the Autonomous University of Chiapas, is using visual information to get science news and ideas to Chiapas, a state in which access to scientific information is poor.

“About 35 per cent of the population do not speak Spanish, the official language,” he explains.

One of the pilot projects is on nutrition, with a view to targeting women, because they “actually decide what the family will eat”.  Two other pilot projects will start soon, focusing on technology applied to agriculture, and the use of natural resources.

This blog post is part of our Public Communication of Science & Technology (PCST2012) conference coverage.


Final day of Forum urges ‘creative wealth’ and e-learning strategies

April 3, 2012

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Maina Waruru
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


African countries are being asked to use science, technology and innovation to create different, more inclusive forms of wealth that benefit entire societies and are more sustainable.

Under-development on the continent can be addressed by reduced reliance on inherited forms of wealth such as oil and minerals, and by shifting to “created” wealth through the application of science, technology and innovation, the Africa ST&I forum heard on its final day today.

“Science and innovation will create not only sustainable but equitable wealth for all in Africa,” said Donald Kaberuka, head of the African Development Bank (ADB) at the ministerial session of the forum.

“Created wealth has the potential to accelerate development and reduce inequality, as opposed to inherited wealth which fuels inequalities and at times sparks conflict in Africa,” he added.

Kaberuka said the bank has identified and is funding ST&I initiatives aimed at spurring economic development on the continent, alongside its investments in other sectors such as water, energy and infrastructure development.

He advised universities in Africa to place greater emphasis on e-learning education approaches, to help bridge the gaps resulting from a continent-wide shortage of qualified lecturers and the high number of university students.

“It would make a lot a sense to use e-learning in universities instead of having one lecturer teaching 1,000 students, resulting in poorly qualified graduates,” Kaberuka said.

By 2030, Africa stands to benefit from “demographic dividends”, as it is estimated a quarter of the world’s youth population will be Africans – but the opportunity to take advantage of this workforce will be lost if they don’t receive the education and skills training necessary to innovate and become entrepreneurs.

The ADB boss noted that some Asian counties have effectively utilised their large youth populations, with deliberate strategies to provide skills training and jobs, and said African countries need to perform the same task.

UNESCO director Irina Bokova told the meeting that UNESCO is helping African countries draft and reform their STI policies to align them with demands of current times, with a particular focus on grants and rewards for innovations for young scientists and women.


Declaration calls for better international collaboration and capacity building

November 22, 2011

"These are difficult times"

The World Science Forum culminated with the endorsement of a declaration calling for improved international collaboration in science and the breaking down of knowledge divides.

The declaration says that changes in science over the last decade signify “a new milestone in the history of science” and “a new era of global science”.

It makes five key recommendations including improved dialogue with society; promotion of international collaboration in science; and more collaborative policies to overcome the knowledge divide.

It calls for a universal ethical code of conduct on the freedoms and responsibilities of researchers that wants to see adopted by national legislations. It also calls for the strengthening of capacity building, including expanding participation of women in science and science policymaking and institutionalising the scientific advisory process within national parliaments and governments.

Yuan Tseh Lee, president of the International Council for Science (ICSU) said the declaration “touched upon many important things, but the most important thing is we all seem to be willing and committed to establish sustainable, equitable and just human civilisation” in what is a “very difficult time”.

Sir Christopher Llewellyn Smith, chair of the UK’s Royal Society Advisory Group, who gave a lecture on international collaboration at the forum, told SciDev.Net the declaration was “good”. “It has all the right things; the need to cooperate better and work across boundaries and by working together we can better solve problems”.

But some scientists said that the recommendations of  were not strong enough.

Mićo Tatalović, deputy news editor, SciDev.Net


Minority report

October 19, 2010

Women in a lab (Flickr/Argonne National Laboratory)

At the registration counter for the 21st General Meeting of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), in Hyderabad, India, this morning, a young volunteer mistakenly assumed that I must have come as a delegate’s spouse.

This reminded me of one of my favourite anecdotes about a French teenager’s description of a science academy as a club of old gentlemen. French physicist and former co-chair of the InterAcademy Panel, the global network of science academies, Yves Quéré wrote in Nature that the teenager unwittingly zeroed in on three problematic features of science academies: few women, few young people and their modus operandi being akin to private clubs.

Shrugging sniggers from men, I will focus on the first point: few women. At this meeting women participants form about a tenth of the entire meeting. This, some women participants assured me, is a generous estimate.

A 2004 report on science careers of Indian women, published by the Indian Academy of Sciences, says women form less than 5 per cent of fellows of each of the three major science academies in India: Indian National Science Academy, Indian Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

This seems reflective of the more general gender malaise. A 2006 report of the InterAcademy Council says 95 per cent of science academy members world over are men.

In the United States, the proportion of women scientists in the National Academy of Sciences is around seven per cent, and in the UK’s Royal Society only 4.5 per cent.

Recent years have seen repeated calls for more incentives for women in research.

I must say the Philippines is refreshingly ahead of India on this front. The National Academy of Science and Technology in the Philippines has had a woman head for at least two terms.

“Academies must set an example for all of the world to see of welcoming women scientists and engineers to their ranks and treating them as full partners with men,” the IAC report said four years ago.

I am not confident that the academies have taken this seriously yet.

T V Padma, South Asia Regional Coordinator, SciDev.Net


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