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How to inspire scientists in developing nations


By Matin Durrani

I’ve now returned to the UK from my visit to the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, which has been celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding. As part of those celebrations, the ICTP has created a special half-hour video documentary (above), which shows how scientists in various parts of the globe have not only furthered their own careers through visits to the ICTP, but have also used that experience to improve science back in their home countries

The video, which I watched in Trieste, features scientists from everywhere from Nepal to Cuba, from Ethiopa to Peru, and from Cameroon to China – and, of course, Pakistan itself where the ICTP’s founder Abdus Salam was from. Entitled From Theory to Reality: ICTP at 50, it was made by Italian film-maker Nicole Leghissa, who spent two months travelling around the world to the locations seen in the film.

Featured prominently in the video is Indian string theorist Ashoke Sen, who revealed to me after the film was shown in the ICTP’s main lecture hall that the scenes in which he appears required several takes – though whether there’ll ever be an “outakes” video, I’m not so sure.

Also in the film is Marlen Perez Diaz, who’s a medical physicist in Cuba – a country that’s only just building up its scientific base. I don’t know all that much about physics in Cuba, but Francisco Morales – a Cuban theorist who’s now at the University of Rome Tor Vergata – told me after we’d watched the film that scientists in the country struggle, not least because of very poor quality Internet connections. For such people, the ICTP really is a lifeline.

There’s also Nathan Berkovits, who’s acting director of the ICTP’s first “satellite centre” –  the International Centre for Theoretical Physics South American Institute for Fundamental Research (ICTP-SAIFR) in Brazil.

I could go on and on about all the people in the film, but I encourage you to watch it for yourself to see just what impact the ICTP has had on physicists around the world. By returning from the ICTP to build up the research base in their own nations, these theorists are doing wonders to halt – and possibly reverse – the international brain drain.

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One comment to How to inspire scientists in developing nations

  1. Dileep Sathe

    Read Prof. Abdus Salam’s biography, especially his childhood and years of graduation. This will surely inspire any one who is really interested in physics.


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