FROM LUKE CLARKE, POLICY ADVISER IN THE ROYAL SOCIETY’S SCIENCE POLICY CENTRE…
Last week, over 30 of the UK’s best and brightest early career scientists came together with their Brazilian counterparts in a remote location near Itatiba in São Paulo state. On the agenda was an extraordinarily diverse range of research topics: can the increasing production of biofuels reduce dependence on petroleum and be reconciled with the need to preserve natural resources? What role, if any, does quantum entanglement play in biological systems? And to what extent can neuroscientists improve learning and recovery in damaged brains through stimulation?The event was the latest in a series of international meetings aimed at bringing together future scientific leaders from around the world. The Frontiers of Science programme was the brainchild of geophysicist Frank Press, who was president of the US National Academy of Sciences from 1981 to 1993, and who oversaw the inaugural meeting in 1989. Since then, 8 of the US Frontiers alumni have won Nobel prizes (including current Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu).The format has been adopted by a number of other national science academies and organisations worldwide, including the Royal Society, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science.
The astonishing rise of Brazilian science over the last decade, with both scientific output (as measured by published articles) and national levels of investment in science more than doubling, made it an ideal choice for a historic meeting: the first of its kind the Society has organised in Latin America, and the first of our 350th anniversary year.
Working with FAPESP, the Research Council for the State of São Paulo (the epicentre of Brazilian science),- we invited a selection of scientists from both countries, as well as a delegation of 8 outstanding scientists from Chile. They were asked to outline some of the big questions at the ‘frontiers’ of their disciplines, with the objective of sparking debate, forge new links and stimulate international and cross-disciplinary collaboration.
The first of these was more than achieved, with discussions spilling over into coffee breaks, mealtimes and long into the night. Many participants have already indicated that they have planned new collaborations, and we will be following the development of these with interest over the coming weeks and months.
Of course the sheer scale and breadth of some of the problems they posed meant that solving them was beyond the scope of this particular meeting. But it is clear that many of the researchers who took part will be at the forefront of some of the most serious and fascinating attempts to address these and other questions over the coming years. By bringing these talented scientists together, we hope to have laid the foundations for some of the ground-breaking ideas of the future.