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Pan African Meeting and Summit of the International Year of Crystallography

Bloemfontein, October 12–17, 2014

[Africanm delegates] Delegates at IYCr2014Africa.

In celebration of 2014 as the International Year of Crystallography (IYCr2014) as declared by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA; resolution A/RES/66/28), the IUCr hosted three world summit meetings during 2014, i.e. in Karachi (Pakistan), Campinas (Brazil) and Bloemfontein (South Africa).

The third world summit of the IYCr (in Africa) was hosted at the U. of the Free State (UFS) in Bloemfontein, South Africa, by Andreas Roodt, Head of the Dept. of Chemistry and President of the European Crystallographic Association (ECA). It had the ambitious theme of 'Crystallography as vehicle to promote science in Africa and beyond', and consisted of a 2.5-day conference (Oct. 12–15), followed by a 2-day summit (Oct. 15–17).

Financial support for the event was secured from the South African Government's Dept. of Science and Technology, the IUCr, the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) via the South African National Research Foundation, and UFS Chemistry.

This Pan-African Meeting of the IYCr was attended by more than 100 senior researchers, early career researchers, postdoctoral fellows and students representing more than 40 research groups from 32 universities and 22 countries, primarily from Africa and Europe, and included decision makers. All the delegates were in agreement that there is a clear sub-optimal level of regional collaboration in science which requires immediate action, and the view was expressed that supporting the broad discipline of crystallography will significantly contribute to promoting science in general.

[Africa reps] African representatives at IYCr2014Africa.

The meeting welcomed delegates from across Africa, including a number of presidents and representatives of African Crystallographic Associations, and aimed to showcase the current state of crystallography on the continent. Among those attending were Thomas Auf der Heyde, the acting Director-General of the Dept. of Science and Technology (South Africa); Gansen Pillay, acting CEO of the National Research Foundation (South Africa); Jean-Paul Ngome Abiaga, International Basic Sciences Program, UNESCO (Paris, France); Prosper Kanyankogote, Vice-chancellor, U. of Kinshasa (DRC); Santiago Garcia-Granda (Oviedo, Spain), representative of the Executive Committee of the IUCr; Michele Zema (IUCr/Pavia, Italy), Project Manager of IYCr2014; Abdelmalek Thalal and Habib Boughzala, Presidents of the Moroccan and Tunisian Crystallographic Associations, respectively; and Petrie Steynberg (Sasol Industry, South Africa).

[Africa speakers] Keynote speakers and decision makers at IYCr2014Africa.

At the conference, the focus was on the discussion of the current state of crystallography in Africa, in particular as presented in 15 keynote lectures, but also in lectures by some 15 young scientists from the English-, French- and Arab-speaking African countries. There was also ample time for presentation of research at poster sessions by students and young scientists, and selected poster presenters had the opportunity to present their work in short 'flash' presentations.

A number of crystallographic research areas were covered, including powder diffraction, small-molecule chemical crystallography, biological crystallography, industrial crystallography, mineralogy, electron microscopy, surface crystallography, materials science and (limited) synchrotron work.

[Africa trio] South African icons honored; from left: A. Roodt (host IYCr2014Africa), Jan Boeyens and Luigi Nassimbeni.

Two South African icons, Jan Boeyens (U. of Pretoria) and Luigi Nassimbeni (U. of Cape Town), were also honoured for their contributions towards crystallography over the past number of decades.

At the Summit, the focus was on how to utilize crystallography as a vehicle to expand science in Africa, with inputs from established and young scientists and policy makers. Two panel discussion sessions between young scientists on the one hand and senior decision makers on the other yielded an interesting discourse.

[Africa signatories] First signatories of the Declaration at IYCr2014Africa.

Highlights of the Summit were the issuing of a Declaration to decision makers in the international science arena such as the IUCr and UNESCO and in Africa and Europe, signed by 73 individuals, and the establishment of a steering committee to cement the formation of an African Crystallographic Association. The steering committee currently has representation from 18 African countries and envisages the expansion thereof in the immediate future.

Key points put forth in the Declaration were to:

  • pro-actively continue with programs to ensure that the legacy of the International Year of Crystallography, particularly the promotion of science, is preserved;
  • over time provide basic diffraction equipment for crystallographers in all countries in the region to allow research activity in crystallography and balanced partnership collaboration across Africa and beyond;
  • facilitate the establishment of National Committees of Crystallography in African Countries and support the activities of the existing ones;
  • introduce a scientific visa to ensure mobility of researchers between African nations. Such a visa would allow for the exchange and collaboration between African countries and the sharing of scientific resources and expertise, to address common developmental targets, for the benefit of all. This scientific visa should be free of charge, be valid for at least a year, and should be issued quickly once certified by appropriate higher education and research bodies;
  • support training workshops and promote joint research projects;
  • encourage the mobility of researchers within the region;
  • leverage national bodies, institutions and international funding agencies for financial support;
  • facilitate regional conferences on the subject of crystallography and its applications in Africa;
  • assist in the promotion of crystallography and science in education programs;
  • provide the very poor countries with minimal infrastructure and materials for research such as powerful computers and servers for data analyses;
  • assist in creating a database, listing African crystallographers;
  • establish a public awareness and engagement program that will create fact-based understanding of crystallography through awareness, dialogue and education in the region.

Moreover, the establishment an African IYCr Cooperation Fund, facilitated by the IUCr and UNESCO, was also proposed, which is envisaged to support actions such as:

  • increasing collaboration and cooperation among scientists in Africa;
  • providing seed money for up to two projects per annum involving a minimum of two countries in the region, of which at least one should be well established in crystallography;
  • funding for short-term visits of up to 3 months for early career researchers;
  • supporting training workshops at established centres of crystallography or at emerging centres in the region;
  • enabling the sharing of facilities within the region.

The overarching feedback from the meeting was positive but it was also unanimous that more interaction between African colleagues is urgently needed to expand on the ambitious theme, i.e. to indeed 'use Crystallography as a vehicle to expand science in Africa and beyond'.

Andreas Roodt and Michele Zema
13 February 2015