APS News

International Desk

APS Fosters Closer Ties with Physicists in Cuba and Africa

International Desk
Left to right: Kennedy Reed, LLNL; UCC Vice-Chancellor Samuel Adjepong; AAMU President John Gibson; Ravindra Lal, AAMU.

International Desk
Victor Fajer Avila (center) president of the Cuban Physical Society, meets with Bernd Crasemann (left) and Irving Lerch of the APS in Havana.
The APS has been taking steps in recent months to form closer ties with physics communities in Cuba and various African nations. In April, Victor Fajer Avila, president of the Cuban Physical Society (CPS), attended the APS April Meeting in Long Beach, CA, to meet with society officers on a proposed exchange program between Cuba and the U.S. A standard reciprocal membership agreement was signed as a result of Fajer's visit. APS hopes to initiate an APS-CPS exchange program in 2001 and is currently seeking funds for it. Both CPS and APS will compile lists of senior physicists willing to participate. Joint sponsorship of pan-American physics workshops in Cuba were also discussed as a way to further facilitate scientific exchange.

In June, Irving Lerch, APS director of international affairs, and Bernd Crasemann, chair of the APS Committee on International Scientific Affairs (CISA), participated in workshops on physics teaching and engineering, and applied physics in engineering, held in Havana in June at the Superior Politechnical Institute. The Cuban physicists who met with the APS representatives reported that the largest immediate need was for access to scientific journals; improving Internet access would enable more Cuban physicists to access journals electronically, and in the meantime APS provided CD-ROMs for the 1998-1999 issues of Physical Review and Reviews of Modern Physics.

Their trip also included a visit with Rolando Perez Alvarez of the University of Havana, who chairs the Cuban National Committee to IUPAP. According to Perez, there are about 2,000 physicists in Cuba at all educational levels and in all areas of employment. However, only about 1,000 of the country's physicists are engaged in research, and of these, only 200 hold doctorates. The number of students enrolled in physics programs has declined from a few hundred per year to a few tens, reflecting a marked lack of job opportunities in the field. In addition, the quality of the students is declining, and poor economics have severely hampered university programs, which must often rely on equipment donations.

In May, Kennedy Reed (LLNL), a member of CISA, and Samuel Adjepong, a physicist and the vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Coast (UCC) in Ghana, West Africa, visited several U.S. institutions and agencies. This was part of a continuing APS initiative to increase interaction between the American and African physics communities. Reed and Adjepong met when Reed was a visiting scientist in Ghana in 1997 and 1999.

Adjepong's itinerary began in New York City with a meeting, together with Lerch and Reed, at the Carnegie Foundation, which recently announced it would join three other foundations to form a "Partnership to Strengthen African Universities". The partnership hopes to encourage the development of projects that will be sustainable after the period of foundation support ends.

Reed and Adjepong next went to Newark, NJ, for meetings at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and at Rutgers University's Newark campus (RU-NC). The result was the signing of a formal agreement between these universities and UCC, establishing a Physics Scholar Exchange Program to provide opportunities for students and faculty in each institution to work and study in each other's physics departments. Among other specifications, the agreement calls for offering selected courses through programs of the African and New Jersey Virtual Universities. Anthony Johnson (Chair, NJIT Physics Dept.) and Earl Shaw (Chair, RU-NC Physics Dept.) were instrumental in developing the plans for this exchange program.

Reed and Adjepong traveled to Huntsville, AL, to visit Alabama A&M University (AAMU) and meet with AAMU President John Gibson. At AAMU a memorandum of understanding was signed establishing a program of collaborative research and student and faculty exchanges between UCC and AAMU. Like the agreement signed in Newark, this one also includes plans for use of the Internet and distance learning in the collaborations. While in Huntsville they went to the University of Alabama where they met with President Frank Franz and university officials, and also visited Raytheon Corporation.

The itinerary ended in Washington, DC, where Reed and Adjepong participated in high-level meetings at the National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences, and also went to the World Bank to discuss recent developments in the African Virtual University. "This visit was an important step in our continuing efforts to promote scientific links with Africa," Reed said, adding that "such collaborations and exchanges can help physicists in Africa become more strongly coupled with global research and development, and will enable them to more effectively employ science and technology for addressing the critical needs of developing African nations." He concluded "These collaborations can also open new channels for African scientists to use their training and talent to contribute to the advancement of science."

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette