HISTORY AND MISSION:
History and mission of the “Physics for Development” group (formerly called IGPD as Interdivisional group Physics for Development) .
Many believe that not much happens in Physics in developing countries and that research in Physics is largely in the hands of industrialized countries. Yet, the same will agree that Physics can address a large number of problems that developing countries have to face, and can find cheap and easy solutions to many of them, e.g. production of solar energy, monitoring of urban and rural pollution, medical applications, agriculture, mining, etc.
The problems encountered in Physics research and training in developing countries are acute. While they may vary from country to country, they obey more or less the same rules: serious lack of funding, which worsens with the economic situation, lack of public awareness, political instability, isolation of scientists, lack of institutional frameworks for research, difficult access to international publications, etc. . Yet at the same time, what is being and has been achieved, in terms of Physics teaching and research, is impressive and deserves admiration, given the local difficulties physicists have to face.
In parallel, and despite the many individual initiatives by European scientists to develop links with colleagues from Developing countries, it is fair to say that there is no initiative or policy by European countries (except for very few exceptions) or by the EU to strengthen the research potential of developing countries in Physics. At a time when Physics has become highly international and that European laboratories have more and more doctoral students from developing countries, leaving more than “the other half of the world” out of the game is just counterproductive, and we feel that the European Physics Community should grasp the importance of this issue.
While the awareness of the European Physical Society for Physics for Development dates back to 1981 when H. van Regemorter founded the Interdivisional Group of Physics for Development (IGPD) at the European Physical Society, the importance of pursuing the effort and making it more significant is crucial at present.
It is in the spirit of strengthening the research and training potential of Developing Countries in Physics that the Physics for Development group focused its efforts, despite its very limited funds:
- a) Grants for advanced schools and workshops in developing countries, with particular emphasis on participation by citizens from developing countries both at the level of lecturers and attendees.
- b) Grants for the bi-annual Southern European School of Physics which is targeted to students from the Developing countries.
- c) Short-term travel grants to physicists from developing countries that need to travel to a European country for training.
And last but not least EPS agreed to give a free membership to EPS for African scientists.
Two years ago, we stopped giving grants and we organized the “Physics for Development” Conference at Brussels. (There is a link to the conference site on this web site). About 85 scientists from Asia, South America, Africa, attended and fruitful contacts took place. This conference was also important since it enabled to know about what was going on in developing countries universities. Some countries may have universities ranging between those capable of handling experimental (or theoretical) research programs and others which are lacking basic scientific instruments without speaking of the poor internet access. So our commitment is to work on these different levels to tackle the problems, even modestly.
Now we try to concentrate about finding alternative solutions for training in experimental research, helping teaching at university with a special point on university practicals and for locally manufacturing laboratory equipment.
We strongly guess that it is only by sharing our knowledge that improvements may be achieved. This is the goal of our web site, but it can only work if you collaborate to.
We also try to promote new technologies and methodologies as they seem important to struggle against the gap between developed and developing countries and they enable cost effective developments for experimental research and university training.
Among those the open source (or/and open access) methodology is very important since it addresses the free access to scientific literature, the design sharing of scientific instruments, the sharing of program for processors, and the creation of free software’s as it is the case for image treatment. We will try to keep here a list of free scientific softwares. This methodology also enabled the emergence of collaborative platforms, such as the electronic Arduino platform.
Another important technology is the 3D printing which we think to be important to manufacture instruments parts for education and research in structures without workshops. We should be aware of what is being done by Fab Lab structures and also by experimental hackers.
While the use of these methods will not be able to solve all the problems as for example the absence of an electronic microscope for characterizing nano scale samples, they will improve substantially the situation providing enough scientists or professors may be trained in and willing to use them.
The recent apparition of MOOC classes may also enable (if you have a good internet access) to help teaching, but with some drawbacks. We want to have a forum on this item on our website.
Our last project is being developed with the Cameroon Physical Society. It is a common project with ICTP and the training of a physicist of the physics department of the Physics department of Yaoundé University by the staff of the 3D printing lab of ICTP and the donation of two 3D printers (and accessories). The equipment reached the university last month and we are eager to know if this modest action will improve the situation.
In the future we think that is will be important to organize local trainings on these methods as is achieving the very talented NGO “Trends in Africa” in different African countries. This provides independence and develops creativity.
It should also be pointed out that developing countries are in the mood of reducing their help to developing countries, so we should try to be creative and find alternative ways to development of physics, without forgetting that alone we go fast but together we go further.
This web site is a tentative to gather information that may be found in many sites and to put it in order by themes and domains. Without forgetting the “sharing philosophy”. We expect your comments and collaboration.