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News
18 January 2011

Theory in practice in the Caribbean

Sean McDowell (TWAS Fellow 2009) talks about the challenges he faces – and the success he has achieved – as a researcher in the Caribbean.

Theory in practice in the Caribbean"I don't know of any other theoretical chemists in the English-speaking Caribbean," says Sean McDowell (TWAS Fellow 2009), professor at the Cave Hill, Barbados campus of the University of the West Indies. "There may be some people in my field in the non-English speaking islands or in South America. But the scientists I collaborate with are in England, Canada and the United States."

McDowell's major research interests focus on the properties of the weak bonds that hold molecules together. This includes the bonds that form between hydrogen atoms on one molecule and electron-rich sites on other molecules that help to determine the structure and behaviour of DNA.

He acknowledges that much of his work is abstract and difficult to explain. But that doesn't minimize its value either to science or society. "Theoretical chemists set the broad framework for the science behind hydrogen and other molecular bonding. Scientists in related fields can eventually exploit the knowledge and insights gained from our research to better understand the complex chemical and biological systems that play such a vital role for our environment and health."

McDowell has been widely recognized for his research. In 1999, he won the Caribbean Academy of Sciences' Young Scientist Award. In 2008, he earned the prestigious Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Award. And, in 2009, was elected to TWAS – the youngest scientist from the Caribbean ever to become an Academy member.

There is a growing appreciation of the importance of science for development throughout the region, says McDowell. He points to the creation of the Caribbean Science Foundation in September 2010 as a case in point. "Government officials," he notes, "understand and accept that science has played a part in the development of countries like Singapore." But McDowell is quick to add that government officials "have yet to fully appreciate that a great deal of money and commitment is required to sustain research."

Find the full TWAS Newsletter article below.

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