Bath scientists explore the Frontiers of Science

Three members of staff from the Faculty of Science have recently returned from participating in a prestigious scientific symposium in Brazil aimed at surveying the horizons of current research and fostering collaborations between scientists from Brazil, Chile and the UK.

Dr Jonathan Dawes (Mathematical Sciences) and Dr Araxi Urrutia (Biology & Biochemistry) were members of the conference organising committee and led the organisation of conference sessions on Population and Disease Dynamics, and Biofuels, respectively.

A total of 76 scientists were individually invited to participate: 35 from Brazil, 8 from Chile and 33 from the UK, including Dr Paula Kover from the Department of Biology & Biochemistry.

The UK-Brazil Frontiers of Science symposium was one of the major international events of the Royal Society's 350th anniversary year, and was organised jointly by the Royal Society, FAPESP (the Research Agency for the State of Sao Paulo, Brazil), the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and the Chilean Academy of Science.

Nine sessions covered key scientific challenges that will shape scientific research over the coming century, including, in addition to the two mentioned above, plant development in the face of climate change, brain plasticity, the dynamics of the Earth's interior, and the formation and evolution of extrasolar planets.

Dr Dawes commented: "It's been a unique opportunity to gain an insight not just into the current challenges being tackled in other disciplines, but also to gain an idea of the scope of research being carried out in Brazil, and how strategically the UK can engage with that."

Dr Urrutia added: "It was a really interesting set of talks which made me think of other areas of science and helped me see how my own research fits within the breadth of scientific research. It made me aware of amazing new discoveries in neuroscience and geoscience.

"But most importantly to me, this meeting also discussed how susceptible plants are to small changes in temperature. Anthropogenic climate change seems the biggest challenge for this century and I fear biotechnology might not advance fast enough to save us: we also need a radical change in lifestyle and of our growth-based economies."

As well as the symposium itself, support from the British Council, the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) and the British Consulate in Sao Paulo enabled the Bath-based participants to significantly broaden the impact of their visits:

  • Dr Kover carried out four public engagement visits to secondary schools in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro when she discussed evolution and its central place in modern biology, reaching over 1200 students from underprivileged backgrounds with her presentations.Dr Kover summed up her visit by saying: "This has been an amazing opportunity! From high school and university level students and teachers to research staff, there’s a high very level of engagement and interest in developing future collaborations with the UK. Science in Brazil is supported by increasing levels of public finance, and as a key developing country it's absolutely the right time to be exploring how UK scientists can engage with Brazilian research".
  • Dr Dawes gave a similar presentation, talking about the mathematics behind how we cope with `Living in a Complex World', following on from the exhibition stand that Bath was selected to run at the Royal Society's Summer Exhibition at the Festival Hall in June 2010. He also gave research seminars at IMPA (the Institute for Pure & Applied Mathematics) and at the Brazilian Centre for Physics Research, both in Rio de Janeiro.

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