Big meet for scientists in South Africa

[Image] The Academy of Science of South Africa
is co-hosting the event – pictured is the
organisation’s board.
(Image: Rhodes University)

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Dorothy Ngila
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Cadine Pillay

One of the most prominent science events to occur in Africa will see hundreds of scientists from all over the world convene in Johannesburg, Gauteng at the end of May as South Africa hosts the Global Young Academy (GYA) General Assembly.

The event will take place from 20 to 23 May at the Gordon Institute of Business Science’s Johannesburg campus, and will attract a number of prominent people in varying fields of science.

The joint hosts are the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS) and the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf).

Hosting the assembly offers South Africa and Africa a unique opportunity and will serve as a motivating factor for young scientists to fully participate in national and global scientific issues, SAYAS said in a statement.

Science and technology minister Naledi Pandor will give the keynote address, speaking to the theme Sustainability: Lessons on the road from Rio to Rio+20. The meeting will focus on producing a statement from these combined views to highlight at the Rio+20 meeting.

Rio+20 is the UN Conference on Sustainable Development to take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 2012. The highly-anticipated event is a follow-up to the UN Conference on Environment and Development that was held 20 years ago in the same city.

Promoting science for young minds

Through the work of SAYAS, young South African scientists are drawn from all backgrounds and recognise that the solution of local and global challenges requires deep understanding across disciplines and cultures. Since its inception in 2011, the organisation has worked hard to recognise the need for young scientists to contribute towards these challenges.

On this foundation, it will link up with the GYA to provide opportunities for local scientists to interact with their international counterparts and give them a platform to influence policy decisions in their field of work.

From the perspective of SAYAS, the main objective for the assembly is to contribute to the career development of young and emerging scientists. Equally important is the ability to promote science as a subject among pupils and society in general.

The organisation also wishes to foster solid links between scientists and the business community by showcasing workshops and presentations by the senior scientists.

“We are excited about the workshop on national young academies that will bring together voices from established academies and those that are just starting,” said SAYAS founding member Prof Bernard Slippers.

“The intention is to stimulate and support the establishment of more such academies around the world, and to link the existing ones even stronger.”

Bridging the international gap

The assembly will showcase the GYA’s various projects which are aimed at bridging the gap between scientists in Africa and the rest of the world. It will serve as a motivating factor for young South African scientists to fully participate in national and global scientific events.

Given the support by the Department of Science and Technology and ASSAf, as well as the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute at the University of Pretoria, the event will raise the profile of SAYAS within the science fraternity in South Africa.

Furthermore, delegates will also engage in outreach activities in collaboration with South African higher learning institutions. Members of the GYA are expected to visit various universities and other research organisations, schools in Soweto, Alexandra and Pretoria, and science centres such as Sci-Bono Discovery Centre and SciEnza, to promote science as a career and speak to pupils.

‘The voice of young scientists around the world’

The GYA was founded in 2010 and established itself as “the voice of scientists around the world”. The academy’s main objective is to unlock the potential of the world’s young scientists and to mobilise them in their creative prime.

The academy currently has 172 active members who include leading young scientists – with an average age of 35 years – from 54 countries. Members were selected for their excellence and commitment to service from nominations submitted by the academies in their different countries.

The GYA’s diverse range of member scientists includes Onoja Matthew Akpa, a bio-medical statistics specialist from Nigeria; Fernando Febres Cordero, a theoretical physicist from Venezuela whose research interest lies in particle physics phenomenology; and Ranjini Bandyopadhyay, from the Raman Research Institute in India.

The organisation’s membership is expected to grow over the next two years to 200 members, each serving a four-year term with them. The vibrancy of the GYA, according to a statement from the organisation, results from the energy of its members who are passionate about the role of science in creating a better world.

Slippers said although this will be an important event on the calendar of GYA, and will boost its outputs and impacts worldwide, it will be equally important for SAYAS, increasing its momentum as an organisation that will impact science in South Africa and its international connectedness.

“It is also likely to touch various aspects of science and science development beyond these two organisations, as senior and young scientists from around the world interact with scientists and society around the country,” he said.