Scientific competence, energy and the urgency to promote social responsibility are qualities that members of the newly established TWAS Young Affiliates Network (TYAN) all share. They met for the first time during the TWAS's 27th General Meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, where they officially established the network and began planning a series of ambitious endeavours.
TYAN has been formed to reinforce ties among the Academy's Young Affiliates. Young scientists, in fact, represent a proactive group of scientific experts in the developing world and can provide timely feedback on needs that they might have in their daily life. By sharing their scientific expertise, skills and ideas, they can have an impact on developing countries through the organization of scientific workshops, networks and public meetings with policy makers, entrepreneurs, journalists and the public at large.
"The founding and development of TYAN is a good platform for collaboration and communication among young scientists," said TWAS President Bai Chunli. "I think that TYAN will become a platform where young scientists can make contributions to the excellence of science, and also encourage collaboration in developing countries. I believe that, with its wisdom and capacity, TYAN will be successful for the future."
The Young Affiliates network was envisioned a couple of years ago by Yin Li, the director of the CAS-TWAS Centre of Excellence for Biotechnology in Beijing. "I was elected as TWAS Young Affiliate in 2010 and I attended my first TWAS General Meeting in Trieste, in 2011," Li said. "I immediately realized that Young Affiliates are a powerful resource for the Academy, but that at the same time they play a minor role in TWAS's family. There is a vertical connection between them and TWAS, not a horizontal relationship among them as there should be. I felt I had to do something."
Yin Li, who was awarded the 2012 TWAS Regional Prize for Building Scientific Institution, is also the Deputy Director-General at the Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology, a non-profit national research institute jointly established by CAS and the Tianjin Municipal Government in 2012. He also serves as a professor at the CAS Institute of Microbiology in Beijing, founded in 1958, which is currently the nation's largest comprehensive research institution of microbiological science.
The TWAS Young Affiliate Programme was officially launched in 2007. Each year TWAS's five Regional Offices select up to five excellent scientists under the age of 40, in a time of their career when they bring valuable energy and perspective to the Academy. After five years, they become Alumni.
But in Li's experience, Young Affiliates have not yet been able to use these good opportunities to contribute to the development of TWAS. Hence he came up with the idea of establishing a network where young scientists could communicate, work together, make new partnerships, and share knowledge and problems, providing TWAS with important feedback on the most urgent needs of young scientists in developing countries. TWAS and the Chinese Academy of Sciences welcomed the proposal, and the Chinese company Lenovo, the largest PC company in the world, endorsed the initiative by providing a three-year grant of USD150,000 per year.
"It's a strategic initiative that will bring TWAS fresh energies and creativity," said TWAS's Programme Coordinator Max Paoli. "At present, we have some 250 Young Affiliates and Alumni. About 60 of them have enthusiastically agreed to participate in this project, and we are confident that many more will join us and strengthen their relationships when the group becomes fully operative."
During the meeting, the members of the newly formed TYAN platform discussed the activities that TYAN should pursue in the months ahead, including building relationships with other academies such as the Global Young Academy, and establishing new cooperation programmes.
A prominent task will also be developing TYAN's social responsibilities, working to advance the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals, to promote science and technology in developing countries and to popularize science.
On 16 November the members convened in Kigali and elected the first TYAN Executive Committee to replace the temporary task force that had carried out early work in the past year. The Executive Committee is balanced both in gender and in geographical composition.
In addition to Yin Li, there are seven other elected members of the Executive Committee: Jalila Ben Salah-Abbès, an associate professor at Higher Institute of Biotechnology in Monastir, Tunisia; Patricia Zancan, an associate professor at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Franco Martin Cabrerizo, an associate professor at IIb-Intech, in Chascomús, Argentina; Bolanle Ade Ojokoh, a senior lecturer at Federal University of Technology in Akure, Nigeria; Collet Dandara, an associate professor at University of Cape Town, South Africa; Sok Ching Cheong, a group leader at Cancer Research Initiatives Foundation, Selangor, Malaysia; and Yusuf Baran, a professor at Abdullah Gul University in Kayseri, Turkey.
Zancan focuses on cancer metabolism, trying to identify cancer targets that can be hit with novel drugs. "I think that TYAN will help all of us to expand our networks as well as our students' opportunities to pay exchange visits to foreign laboratories," she said. Then she announced that in 2017 Brazil would host the first TYAN meeting. " The Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean of TWAS and the Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean of the International Council for Science (ICSU) asked me to organize a meeting in Rio de Janeiro, next year. We will also receive the support of the Brazillian Academy of Science. I will work hard for that to be successful."
Turkish scientist Yusuf Baran studies molecular mechanisms of drug resistance in cancer, focusing also on science and technology policy. "These days' meetings have been a tremendous opportunity to get to know each other to make a positive change for our future," Baran said. "We are a family from around the world and we have to work hard.... I believe that science is the best way to bring peace, to provide sustainable and economical development, to use diplomacy around the world."