World Academy of Sciences grows, launches new network

The World Academy of Sciences or TWAS, the science network for the developing world, has elected 40 new fellows – more than half from China and India – bringing the number of academy members to more than 1,200 from some 95 countries. At last week’s 27th General Meeting held in Rwanda, the academy also launched a new wing for young scientists.

The TWAS Young Affiliates Network will link young scientists from the Global South.

The four-day meeting was attended by around 500 science and policy leaders from more than 50 countries, and was opened by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Africa’s champion of science and research. The Rwanda Academy of Sciences was launched ahead of the event.

New fellows

Of the 40 new fellows drawn from 18 countries, 18 are men while 12 are women – the highest number of women admitted in a single year in the academy’s 33-year history.

China has 12 and India has 10 new fellows, followed by Brazil with four. There are 12 countries with one new fellow each – Argentina, Australia, Canada, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Germany, Jamaica, Jordan, Mexico, South Africa, Tunisia and Uganda – while two live in Finland and Kazakhstan, where TWAS previously had no members.

The group will be inducted into the academy at its 28th general meeting in 2017 and are drawn from diverse fields including social and economic sciences, mathematics, astronomy and space, and biological, agricultural, health and engineering sciences.

Also during the event, 25 early career scientists from 20 countries were admitted to the 10th roll of Young Affiliates, to serve for a five-year term.

Among them are five early career scientists each from Central and South Asia, from Latin America and the Caribbean, and from Africa – Benin, Ghana, Mauritius and South Africa – and three each from the Middle East and North Africa and Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

“We anticipate that the network will give our Young Affiliates a stronger voice within TWAS, and in the global science community,” the academy said in a closing statement issued on Thursday.

“TWAS took further steps at the Kigali meeting to make the academy fully representative of diversity and skill in the global science community and through adjustments in our election procedure, we hope to bring in fellows from countries that have been under-represented, including women and scientists from African nations and Least Developed Countries.”

The prizes

The event feted scientists for exemplary work in various fields, including Chinese material scientist and chemistry professor Zhao Dongyuan of Fudan University in Shanghai, who was named 2016 winner of the R100,000 TWAS-Lenovo Science Prize.

“Zhao is a renowned veteran chemist with over 30 years of research experience, publishing over 600 scientific papers and winning over 50 research awards,” said George He, vice-president of the Chinese company Lenovo, which funds the prize.

Nepalese biomaterial scientist Bijay Singh won the 2016 Atta-ur-Rahman Prize in Chemistry for outstanding work in biomaterials research. The prize is in honour of 1985 TWAS fellow and former president of the Pakistan Academy of Science, Atta-ur-Rahman.

Mahouton Norbert Hounkonnou, a 2004 TWAS fellow and a professor of mathematics and physics at the University of Abomey-Calavi in the Republic of Benin, received the CNR Rao Prize for outstanding research in maths and sustained commitment to maths education.

And Ghanaian chemist Marian Nkansah, whose research has focused on the heavy metal content of tea, soils and dust and associated health risks, became the first winner of the Fayzah M Al-Kharafi Prize, a new annual award that recognises exceptional women scientists from scientifically and technologically under-developed countries.

The prize is named for 2004 TWAS Fellow Fayzah M Al-Kharafi from Kuwait, former president of Kuwait University and the first woman to head a major university in the Middle East, who provides the US$4,000 prize.

Call for more investment in science

During his speech President Kagame lamented the low investment in science in Africa, and called on African governments to increase funding for the sector.

“Investment in research and development in Africa, and other developing areas, is still too low, and in most countries less than one in three scientific researchers are women,” he told the gathering. Our continent urgently needs to produce many more scientists and engineers.

Investment in institutional and academic infrastructure was necessary, Kagame said, as was closer collaboration among researchers, and between them and policy-makers.

“The transformative power of science is known, and we must harness it to serve our ambitious goals for sustainable development and prosperity.

“But science has another, less visible, but no less valuable, dividend: the scientific mindset makes us better people. In both conception and utilisation, scientific work is blind to divisions or prejudices that only hinder further progress for everybody.

“Our common dignity as human beings matters," the president concluded. "And no one can be left out of the scientific enterprise.”

Bai Chunli, president of TWAS, called for vibrant science. “Progress begins with leadership. A nation needs good science policy, it needs education, training and a strong innovation ecosystem,” Chunli observed.

Many governments had shown commitment by raising investment in science. “Nations are building new universities, often focused on science and engineering, and these are very positive developments which in the long-run should pay off with great dividends.”