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Jamaica shows a way forward with nuclear science centre

29 June 1999

While most speakers at yesterday's forum on Science for Development, co-organized by the Third World Academy of Sciences, painted the depressing picture of a widening science gap between South and North, a case study from Jamaica gave some hope to countries struggling to conduct research at viable levels and to retain their own scientists.

The International Centre for Environmental and Nuclear Sciences (ICENS) in the University of West Indies, provides a model for small states, based on selection of a limited number of multi-disciplinary studies, according to its director-general Gerald Lalor, who established the centre in 1984.

Equipped with a range of analytical tools, including a Slowpoke nuclear reactor for neutron activation analysis (provided with US$1 million from the European Union), ICENS has established environmental geochemistry as the national theme for scientific and economic development with its pervasive -- and visible -- applications in agriculture, resource development, environment and health.

Lalor believes that the growth of universities following independence, with their promise of generating wealth and competitiveness, "has not really come together". He puts this down to an underestimate of "the amount of time and sustained effort necessary to build what we dreamed of and spoke so much about".

The criterion for success of ICENS, said Lalor, has been its capacity to build staff to a "critical mass" and then to retain them, to reduce the impact of the brain drain and to develop international collaborations. So far, the signs are good with about 15 staff engaged in research (out of a total of 20), a budget of US$2 million, grants of $1 million from the UK and the Netherlands and a further $2 million expected from the EU this year.

Lalor favours South-South collaborations, such as the centres run in 13 countries by the Commission on Science and Technology for the South.

Forum chair, C.N.R. Rao, president-elect of TWAS, called for the World Conference on Science to urge three definite targets for developing countries: one per cent of GDP to be spent on research and development, six per cent on education, and the provision of safe drinking water to entire populations.

Another speaker, Adnan Badran, president of Philadelphia University in Jordan, endorsed Rao's specific targets. He called for long-term commitments to increased funding and a strengthening of science and mathematics education to redress the acute imbalance in workforces between developed countries (4 scientists per 1,000 workers) and the developing group (0.7 per 1,000).


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