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Change the world


Climate change, its effects and responses, careers in physics, science diplomacy and medical physics were some of the deliberations at the recent biennial African Conference on Fundamental and Applied Physics (ACP2023). 


The conference explored a wide range of science wonders, existing challenges and how they could be remedied. Hosted through hybrid means, scores of renowned physicists from across Africa and beyond offered thought-provoking assertions.

Theorising the application of physics in weather and climate sciences, Dr Mary-Jane Bopape, the managing director of the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) of the National Research Foundation (NRF), states that multi-disciplinary research is essential for understanding environmental/ earth systems change and variability which may be natural or human induced.

Such a need is because “climate change has changed the characteristics of weather and climate extremes, including over Southern Africa”, said Bopape, who then offers early warning signs as a mitigator against the severity of weather and climate related disasters.

“More work is needed from across the globe, including the African continent to inform better understanding of earth sciences processes,” Bopape said.

This call to action was responded to by Prof Irvy Gledhill in her theorisation of science diplomacy and developing communities.

Prof Gledhill stated that Africa is deeply engaged in highlighting blind spots in global policy agendas, an example being disasters, how we do not have insurance, and how that can be attributed to climate change which is caused very often by the global North.

“The term ‘science diplomacy has traditionally been used to describe either science in diplomacy, or diplomacy to assist science. Now, perhaps, the concept of diplomacy might be extended from the management of relations between countries to the relations between science and society,” says Gledhill.

Gledhill stressed the need for science diplomacy by using climate change as an example. The need to learn new languages, not only as a conceptual framework, but how physicists must also learn what life is like for the bureaucrat with whom they work.

She also stated that this should be extended to local communities as implementation depends on it. She concedes that there will be inevitable challenges along the way, but they should be viewed as learning experiences.

Responding to a question regarding embargoes, Gledhill asserts that “the bond between scientists must not be broken as there are fundamental freedoms. Additionally, we believe that government affiliations and government institutions should be made aware of the opinions of the international community”.

Gledhill concluded by emphasising the importance of young scientists. “The role of scientists is two-fold, first is building friendships; friendships endure during war and conflict. The second is to speak out for changes that we anticipate in the future”.

What the future holds for scientists and engineers is conceptualised by Prof Surya Raghu from ET Cube International Inc. Raghu stated that alternative careers from academics are possible if one designs their own trajectory.

He cautions that “linear career paths for scientists and engineers are less likely in the future – and a career could be what one makes for her or himself”.

Adding that academic skills can be transferred to other professions if people invest in their careers and create a brand for themselves – a brand for scientific credibility.

Echoing Gledhill’s sentiments, Raghu reiterates the call of giving back to one’s community for the next generation of scientists.