A round table on the theme “Physics for Development” was organised during the Council Meeting of the European Physical Society (EPS) on 1 April 2016. There is no doubt that science and technology are essential elements to meet the challenges for sustainable development. Fundamental and applied scientific research lay the foundations for new methodologies to identify, clarify and provide solutions to global challenges. Science contributes to social and technological progress, improving the quality of life through advances in medicine, agriculture, energy supply, education, communication, etc. Science is also in itself a way of crossing national, cultural and mental borders by fostering international cooperation.
The round table organised by the EPS ‘Physics for Development’ Group was centred on presentations by: Jean Paul Ngome Abiaga from the Basic Science Programme at UNESCO; Lucie Baron from the Liter of Light initiative; Barbara Capone from the Sunshine4Palestine initiative; Joe Niemela from the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP); and George Miley from the International Astronomical Union (IAU). It is important to note that the numerous organisations involved in physics for development might have very different structural approaches. UNESCO is an International Governmental Organisation developing and implementing policies approved by its member states. Liter of Light and Sunshine4Palestine are not for profit associations that rely on their members to supply volunteer effort and donations to develop their activities. ICTP is a research organisation that uses its networks of scientists around the world to improve the scientific expertise in the developing world. The IAU uses its network of scientists and the wonder generated by astronomy in the public to enhance educational and outreach activities.
The talks and following discussions underscored the many different scientific approaches to address developmental issues. Liter of Light and Sunshine4Palestine have developed efficient technological solutions to supply communities with low cost lighting and electricity. UNESCO is developing programmes to provide long term solutions based on education and capacity building. ICTP provides research opportunities for physicists in developing countries and trains them in technology transfer techniques. The IAU uses its grass roots communities to implement new strategies to improve science education in developing countries.
Since 1985, the EPS Physics for Development Group has built up activities in physics training and research in poorer countries in particular by organising scientific conferences and workshops, by initiating better access to scientific equipment and publications and by providing travel grants to researchers. One important project where EPS is also involved with other national physical societies such as IOP, DPG and APS is SESAME (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East). This “third-generation” synchrotron light source under construction in Allan (Jordan) will be the first Middle East’s major international research centre aimed to establish scientific and technological excellence in this region and promote a culture of peace through international cooperation.
Recently, a Special Activity Fund was created to support actions that are not in the mainstream of EPS tasks or that need special financing beyond the regular EPS budget. To see the various activities which can be financed and if you wish to make a donation, click here. In particular projects related to Physics for Development in poorer countries can be financed. The EPS is exploring how to optimise its role in this field by developing synergies not only with its Member Societies but also with its Divisions and other Groups. One idea is to create a forum in order to share information and best practice in the area of physics for development. Indeed joining forces is necessary to reach the critical mass and be sure that our efforts make a real impact. EPS will continue to do what it does best: create networks of interested and motivated scientists to tackle new challenges. Here the challenge is mainly to focus the efforts of various actors in different areas. Hopefully these few lines will motivate the reader to contribute with his personal ideas and actions. In that case do not hesitate in contacting us.
EPS Secretary General