REPORT of the TASK FORCE on CAPACITY BUILDING and EDUCATION in BIOPHYSICS
History of the Taskforce
The activities of this Task force during the last few years may not be fully understood without considering previous information. For the benefit of those who may not be aware of this history, I will make a brief mention of the general ideas that drove us to the present point.
In 1996 in the General Assembly in Amsterdam created the Task Force on Capacity Building and, among others, the Task Force of Education. These two Task Forces where fused later in the present Task Force of Capacity Building and Education.
From the very beginning the idea was to devise a strategy to promote the activities in biophysics in the developing countries by first analyzing the deficiencies and then implementing new strategies.
At first, a horizontal cooperation within regions was consider the most efficient way of producing a sustainable advance on the field. The Council agreed that the first test case would be Latin America.
The initial step was to develop an exchange program for short stays for PhD students and young researchers. Most were for one month but these were often extended by the host laboratory. They were based in the region and in some cases a permanent exchange started.
A workshop was convened to analyze the real situation in Latin America (La Plata 1900), and a map of laboratories with a good level of different specialties was produced. Special funds where requested and obtained from ICSU that enabled many students to attend the IUPAB Congress of 2002 in Buenos Aires. A major conclusion from this Workshop was that “brain drain” was a major problem for developing countries where students go to developed countries to do their PhD. Therefore, a regional postgraduate program may help to solve the problem. Meetings were organized in Roorkee (India) and Yerevan (Armenia) to analyze the problems of different regions.
A new Postgraduate Program was devised based in a network of universities and research institutes that can provide regional courses and conduct research projects for students. Activities included lectures, seminars and political visit to educational and scientific authorities in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay. The funds needed for these activities where not provided by IUPAB but came from organizations such as the Sociedad Argentina de Biofisica, Sociedad Brasileria de Biofisica, Sociedade Brasileria de Fisica, Associacion Fisica Argentina, PEDECIBA (Uruguay) universities, and from my own grants.
Subsequently, I generated interest in this program through the Commission of Biological Physics of IUPAP. During its General Assembly (Cape Town 2005) contact was made with several Africans scientist. Africa is a complex region and previous attempts to get them to participate in the Roorkee meeting failed.
In November 2006 a group of active scientist and teachers from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Uruguay held a workshop at La Plata, Argentina, which was supported by IUPAB. This Workshop considered questions such as the feasibility and the need for high quality, the potential of the regions, and the different regulation of universities in different countries. An outline of the program is appended.
We began with the idea that the best way to strengthen the scientific community is to develop a Latin American biophysical PhD program that will promote the exchange of knowledge, stimulate cooperation, and raise the capacity of all countries to retain their young scientists. We relied on the activities of the biophysical societies, which have a history of coordinating activities and developing common interests.
In August of 2007, the Latin American Federation of Biophysical Societies (LAFeBS) was founded. The goals of the LAFeBS are to develop a lasting inter-relationship between the Latin American biophysical and related societies, and to promote regional human resources in biophysics from the undergraduate to the post-doctoral level.
The LAFeBS was asked to:
(a) Organize regional co-operation in biophysics and to promote communication between the various branches of biophysics and allied subjects,
(b) Encourage co-operation between the adhering societies that represent the national interests of biophysics,
(c) Enhance regional contributions to the advancement of biophysics,
(d) Set up commissions or other bodies for special purposes,
(e) Generate appropriate procedures to promote an academic network for postgraduate education in the region,
(f) Organize periodic meetings, workshops and conferences on biophysics in to the Latin American activities in Biophysics,
(g) Collaborate with other scientific organizations in biophysics and allied subjects, and
(h) Develop activities deemed helpful to the advancement of these objectives.
LAFeBs is now officially accepted as an IUPAB adhering body.
Universities in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have agreed to develop a Postgraduate Program and others are likely to follow. The initial Program was lunched at the beginning of 2008.
How will the Program be financed?
We have succeeded in creating a biophysics nucleus within the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group (AUGM). This group comprises 30 universities from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay, and will be expanded. Within this Association the activities of the nucleus includes the amalgamation of teaching and research activities that can contribute to the building of capacity in the Latina Americana program. Some resources will be provided by AUGM.
Argentina and Uruguay have requested additional funds from the UNESCO special program for education and we are waiting for the final decision. Additionally, we have entered into discussions with CAPESP (the Brazilian agency that supervises university teaching, including postgraduate programs) to develop a one-day workshop in Aguas de Lindoia, Brazil. This involves several officers of CAPES including Professor Marcelo Morales (Brazil), President of the Brazilian Biophysical Society and Council Member of IUPAB, Professor Silvia Alonso (Argentina), President of Argentinean Biophysical Society, and myself. The present status is promising and we may be able to generate permanent financial support to complete the program.
In December 2008, closed to the annual meeting of the Argentinean Biophysical Society, the first collective activity of all enrolled students will take place.
Next year, prior to the Ibero-American Congress of Biophysics in Rio de Janeiro, a School will be conducted. This School will be supported by a grant from IUPAB.
Latin American Programme of Biophysics
The Latin American Program of Biophysics, which has been planned as a part of the project of Regional Postgraduate Programs on the Task Force for Education and Capacity Building, has already started. Currently, 11 Institutions have been enrolled (8 from Argentina, 2 from Brazil and 1 for Uruguay) and many other are in course of doing so (see also the comments on the Biophysics Nucleus of the Montevideo Group). Students are enrolled in one adhering university (the one that will issue the regular Diploma) and fulfil all the requirements of that university. The Academic Committee of the Program, considers the essential activities for the Biophysics PhD or Masters degree that are in the best the interests of the candidate, and provides any necessary advice. Activities can be done in any of the enrolled institutions, selecting the best location for any given activity needed for the development of a thesis. They include at least one common activity (special course, workshop, etc.) organized by the Program.
The first collective activity is planned for December of this year, prior to the meeting of the Argentinean Biophysical Society in Bahia Blanca (Argentina). In 2009 the common activity will be prior to the Iberoamerican Biophysics Congress, to be held in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil).
Prof. Dr. J. Raul Grigera