Pretoria – History is being made in Pretoria on Tuesday when the Science Forum South Africa kicks off at the CSIR International Convention Centre with a view to stimulate debate about the role of science in addressing societal challenges.
Under the theme, Igniting conversations about Science, the two-day conference will see about 1 500 participants from 45 countries exchanging ideas on the interface between science, technology and innovation in building a better society.
South Africa is widely expected to utilise the conference as a vehicle to strengthen its strategic international science, technology and innovation partnerships.
Pandor has pushed repeatedly for greater investment in research and development, as well as human capital in South Africa.
During her budget vote earlier this year, she warned that inadequate resources for research and innovation would deny the government the opportunity to “realise the full potential of the difference science and innovation can make in a society”.
While acknowledging restraints on the government, she has lobbied for more money, asserting that investment in research and innovation will lead to greater prosperity, more jobs, and more entrepreneurs. “I hope to show today that science and innovation are catalysts for future growth and new jobs,” she said at the time.
The conference is inspired by other “open science” conferences, such as the European Science Open Forum, American Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as the Science, Technology and Society Forum in Japan, and Pandor’s belief is that to lead in innovation, countries have to form partnerships.
During the programme, there is an opportunity for organisers of international events with a similar orientation, such as the Japanese Science Agora or the European Open Science Forum, to make presentations.
When proceedings get under way on Tuesday morning, scientists, government officials, industry leaders, students and civil society representatives will exchange ideas on ways to harness innovation and advance sustainable development, especially in the context of fighting poverty, among other topics.
Among the talking-points will be challenges associated with developing human capital for the knowledge economy and a topic on how research and innovation can best be used to promote the continent’s growth and development. Climate change and agriculture also feature on the agenda.
Lectures will be given on a variety of subjects, including large-scale research infrastructures, with a focus on the Russian perspective on mega science projects, such as the Square Kilometre Array: Big Telescope, Big Science, Big Data.
Focus will also be on the Square Kilometre Array project titled, The SKA in the Public Sphere in South Africa.
The SKA is a radio telescope which will help scientists understand how the universe evolved, as well as the formation and change of stars and galaxies. The conference will be addressed by its project director Dr Bernie Fanaroff.
“Public health will again be in the spotlight with a lecture focusing on what the guidelines for development are, and the effective use of point of care diagnostic tools when managing diseases in poor-resourced clinics in South Africa,” said Pandor, who is to deliver the opening address at the event.
Another science lecture, Understanding the Keys to Longevity, will focus on lessons of longevity learnt from the life of former president, Nelson Mandela.
Chief executive of South Africa’s Technology Innovation Agency, Barlow Manilal; and Professor Martial De-Paul Ikounga, the AU Commissioner for Human Resources, will be among the dignitaries. Also attending are a host of academics and leaders from institutions like the CSIR and other research bodies.
More than 50 South African and international organisations, including a number of embassies, will showcase their work at an exhibition forming part of the forum.
As part of the conference, the first South African Science Diplomacy Awards will be hosted to celebrate partnerships that have made a significant contribution towards making the world a better place.
The new Science International partnership involving various science prominent bodies will also be launched.
* To follow the Science Forum, visit the website at www.sfsa.co.za or download the SFSA 2015 app from your Play Store (on Android) or iTunes (on Apple devices).