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More than good enough to do world-class research

When I returned to Tunisia from France in the late 1970s, my country's scientific capacity was low. Scant government investment in science and technology reflected that reality. The laboratory where I worked had no equipment and a staff of one. Today, my laboratory is staffed by 50 scientists and equipped with two lasers: a diode laser that arrived in 1995, with financial help from the European Union; and a nanosecond pulsed laser, which was paid for by the Tunisian government and began operation in 2003. We might not have a faster, more powerful (and, I might add, more expensive) femtosecond pulsed laser, often found in laboratories in developed countries. Yet, our equipment is good enough as it is to do world-class research. The laboratory has an annual budget of around US$100,000. That is by no means lavish. But it allows us to buy equipment, fund graduate students, have our researchers participate in international workshops and have other scientists visit our laboratories. In the 1980s, funds were so meagre that I had to focus on theoretical studies of the interaction of atoms and molecules. There was no way I could afford to do experimental research. Research was so difficult that it took me 10 years to publish my first paper. Today, thankfully, there is growing awareness among the nation's political leaders that science is a key to development and a fundamental prerequisite for growth.

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Lakhdar-Akrout, Z. More than good enough to do world-class research. Nature 456, 14 (2008).

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