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With many scientific societies located in various countries around the world, we might ask ourselves, what is the purpose of establishing a new regional society such as the Federación Iberoamericana de Sociedades de Física (FEIASOFI)? To start with, FEIASOFI is not a pure regional association, in that it is composed of physical societies from both Latin America and Europe (Spain and Portugal). Its formation was based not only on scientific affairs, but also on the common culture that originally came from the Iberian peninsula after the discovery of America, and was amalgamated by the local traditions and later by the enormous contributions from immigrants all over the world. The main reason for the creation of a regional society such as FEIASOFI is exchange and cooperation–sharing experiences toward solving research problems, sharing of local facilities, and student exchanges.
In Latin America, two languages are dominant, 1 Spanish and Portuguese, and are close enough to be understood by almost everybody. This allows communication not only with colleagues and advanced students, who also speak English, but also at different educational levels. For instance, meetings can include lectures for the general public from almost any of the speakers.
Physics in Latin America appears early, and briefly, in history. One of the first recorded activities dates between 1828 and 1834 when Octavio Mossotti left his homeland of Italy for political reasons, and undertook a position as Professor at the recently established (in 1821) University of Buenos Aires. During his time in Buenos Aires, where he taught elementary physics, Mossotti began to work on ideas that led to the well known Clausius-Mossotti equation. When the political situation in Italy improved, Mossotti returned home. A historian of physics may track other similar cases, or could tell us about the first research institutes in Latin America. Nonetheless, after these early endeavors, many years elapsed until physics really grew in the region. Nowadays, physics departments and institutes are very active in teaching and research.
Contact between physicists in Latin America and foreign colleagues–mostly from Europe and North America–grew steadily. However, cooperation within the region started slowly. As the number of active physicists grew in Latin America, professional societies began to appear in many countries and the physics communities began to have more organic interactions. Frequent meetings were organized between two or more societies, which produced a better knowledge of the physics community of each country, sharing their experiences and helping to address common challenges.
After several years of informal contacts, in 1995 the Federación Latinoamericana de Sociedades de Física-FELASOFI (Latin-American Federation of Physical Societies) was formed with the aim of increasing the interaction among the physicists of the region, while maintaining the identity of the national physics associations. Soon after (in 1996), and due to the strong interactions between Latin American countries and Spain and Portugal, an agreement was signed between FELASOFI and the physical societies of Spain and Portugal to constitute the Unión Iberoamericana de Sociedades de Física-UISF (Latin American Union of Federation of Physical Societies). The final statutes were fixed in 2005 where it was decided to change the name to Federación Iberoamericana de Sociedades de Física-FEIASOFI (Ibero-American Federation of Physical Societies).
International collaboration among FEIASOFI countries allows support for research across multiple sub-disciplines. Here, the situation is quite different for developing countries. For example, in developed countries, one can find almost any type of scientific equipment that one could need under one roof. However, the lack of such equipment in developing countries has produced an overabundance of theoretical research over experimental. Thus, programs that permit the mobility and exchange of researchers to perform specific experiments are extremely important. Enabling collaborations between different regions/countries that share common cultures can be beneficial. This has to be undertaken with care, however, for any particular country. There are large differences between countries, and hence, one of the strengths of FEIASOFI is to encourage and to facilitate cooperation among diverse organizations with common goals of spreading knowledge, sharing facilities, and helping scientists in different ways.
One of the first actions of FELASOFI was to publish the Revista Iberoamericana de Física (Ibero-American Physics Journal), which publishes articles in Spanish and Portuguese on classical and new topics. One audience for the journal is high school teachers, who can update their physics knowledge and lessons to include hot new topics, helping stimulate their students to go deeper in their physics studies.
Since its establishment, FEIASOFI has also supported the Physics Olympiads, which are geared towards pre-university students. These competitions help to generate an interest in physics, which is critical for attracting students to pursue physics degrees during their university studies. The Federation cooperates in different aspects with the organizing committees.
While excellent international meetings are taking place around the world, it is also important to encourage participation in regional meetings. We have to bear in mind that international travel requires resources that, unfortunately, many excellent scientists do not have. At the same time, the participation of scientists in local meetings of other countries can sometimes have difficulties for political reasons. Regional meetings can provide an opportunity to overcome these obstacles. FEIASOFI’s endorsement of international meetings have, in some cases, strengthened scientists’ ability to attend.
But these activities are not enough; the mission of FEIASOFI is to go beyond promoting meetings. With co-operation among its members, it must search for activities that can improve the scientific capacity of its member countries. The search for such activities, as well as the funding to support them, however, is not simple. Many technical and scientific problems have to be solved in different countries–identifying topics for collaboration requires harmonizing priorities, opportunities, and common interest across the field of physics. Metrology, for example, has come to be an important subject among countries, given its relevance to economic and public health issues. Resources have been assigned by the Brazil government for the project Ibero-American Physical Societies and the Dissemination of Metrology. The implementation for the project is now one of the main activities of FEIASOFI.
The above gives some of the history of science in Latin America, and recent activities of the newly formed scientific Federation, FEIASOFI. The Federation is still young, but we have confidence that in a relatively short time, its relevance will contribute to the development of physics activities of its members, as well as to the welfare of our collective population.
J. Raul Grigera is Emeritus Professor, Universidad Nacional de La Plata, Argentina. He is the former President of the Physical Society of Argentina and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the Institute of Physics (UK) and the Royal Society of Chemistry of London.
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