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Chemistry International
Vol. 24, No. 6
November 2002

 

PEDECIBA–Programa de DEsarrollo de CIencias BAsicas


A year ago, Uruguay became part of the IUPAC family, as the Chemistry Area of PEDECIBA became an Associate National Adhering Organization (ANAO). By becoming an ANAO, PEDECIBA provides a point of contact for the chemists in Uruguay and the global chemistry community. CI asked a Uruguayan member, Patrick Moyna, to review the origin of PEDECIBA and the significant role of chemistry in the organization.

Chemistry in Uruguay

by Patrick Moyna

In Uruguay, professional studies of pharmacy and chemistry started in the late 19th century at the Instituto de Quimica of the faculty of medicine. In 1929 these courses were combined with those of industrial chemistry (now chemical engineering) of the National Petroleum Company, and the new Facultad de Quimica y Farmacia (now Facultad de Quimica) was established. In the late 1970s the chemical engineering department moved to the Facultad de Ingenieria and became less chemistry oriented.

> Snapshot of Uruguay

In spite of a national tradition of wide international contacts, the new college remained rather isolated from international associations. The graduating professionals joined either the Asociacion de Quimica y Farmacia del Uruguay (AQFU) or the Asociacion de Ingenieria Quimica del Uruguay (AIQU), while the small number of Masters and Doctoral graduates in chemistry failed to establish their own association. In the last two decades the AIQU became a member of EFCE (European Federation of Chemical Engineers) and AQFU became member of the International Union of Pharmacology (IUPHAR) although the pharmacy courses are still at the Facultad de Quimica. For this reason, although Uruguayan chemists were always very interested in IUPAC resolutions, there was no official link to the Union.

PEDECIBA Inception
In the early 1970s Uruguay went through a military coup that established a non-democratic regime that ended in 1985. The small scientific community in Uruguay was concentrated at the University and was almost completely dispersed during those years. The situation troubled the director of the UNESCO regional office in Montevideo, and in the waning months of the regime he organized a committee with some of the few remaining local scientists to develop a program to resume scientific activity with the oncoming democratic government. The Program for the Development of Basic Sciences, (PEDECIBA, or Programa de DEsarrollo de CIencias BAsicas,) was thus established in 1986 as a joint venture of the Ministry of Education, the National University, and UNESCO. The original organization was comprised of five main Areas, representing the biological, chemical, physical, mathematical, and computational sciences. Each Area opened a register of active scientists, who were incorporated after presenting their curriculum vitaes for evaluation. In this way each Area became a "sui generis" Academy, which included all active scientists working in Uruguay.

Each PEDECIBA Area has an honorary director and a standing committee of four other members, which decides on policies and programs to be developed and calls for an annual registration of new members. Each committee, which serves for two years, also incorporates one representative of the postgraduate students. The honorary academic staff members (ASMs) are in categories similar to those of the national university as full and associate professors and assistants, none of whom receive a salary from the PEDECIBA. Other members include doctoral and master’s students, who can hold PEDECIBA bursaries. The ASMs are reevaluated periodically to ascertain their continued activity and productivity.

PEDECIBA was crucial to many Uruguayan expatriates who found ways of reestablishing contacts with their country, and who eventually returned. The national government took up the funding after some time, and established a yearly budget that has increased and decreased following the national financial fortunes. In spite of being very limited, this seed funding has allowed the Uruguayan groups to apply to international funding agencies, yielding a good record of results. Another positive result was that the different Areas applied different policies for their development, and the successful ones have been openly imitated, first by the sibling Areas, and later by the regular laboratories in colleges and ministries, making for a widespread improvement of research activities in the country.

This nonpolitical organization that is solely run by the end users (the scientists), has been much more efficient in improving scientific activities in the country than the "established" systems within the Ministries, or the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia, or even the national university. Three external evaluations, in 1989, 1996, and 2001, have been instrumental in qualifying PEDECIBA’s achievements as outstanding.

The Chemistry Area
As Chemistry was the only Area that was closely connected with an operating College, it could not quickly take advantage of the organizational and funding possibilities opened by the PEDECIBA. The Area began with a very small group of chemists, but it has progressed to include over 100 ASMs. The activities of the Area have helped to integrate chemists who are working outside the Facultad de Quimica, which is the only national university department where chemistry is taught. At present, there are members from 29 different laboratories, 16 are in the Facultad and 13 are from other colleges or national laboratories.

As a collateral result of the work of the Chemistry PEDECIBA, chemical research and research at the Facultad have progressed greatly. The post-graduate programs in chemistry have advanced both within PEDECIBA and at the university level: less than 5% of the staff at the Facultad had doctoral degrees when the PEDECIBA started in 1986, and now 59% has achieved that level; the number of publications of Chemistry ASMs was under one paper per year during the 1987-1995 period and climbed to over two per year in the 1996-2001 period; the Facultad is now responsible for the origin of over 20% of the total Uruguayan scientific productivity (according to the Institute of Scientific Information), although it gets less than 3% of the total national university’s budget; many of these results are now going into local industries under an active PEDECIBA-sponsored academia-industry linked system.

The members of the Chemistry Area realized that Uruguay had no international linkages to IUPAC or other chemical societies and, after discussions with the PEDECIBA central committee, applied for ANAO status to IUPAC, suggesting that the other Areas associate with other members of ICSU. Although it is an unusual ANAO, the PEDECIBA has shown extremely positive results for the development of chemical sciences in Uruguay and has been able to expand the positive results outside its own operation. We hope to further improve by taking advantage of the new connections through IUPAC, learning what colleagues have done abroad, and contributing with our expertise to the further advancement of chemical sciences worldwide

Patrick Moyna <pmoyna@bilbo.edu.uy>is professor emeritus of Facultad de Quimica in Montevideo in Montevideo, Uruguay, and is a member of CHEMRAWN.

www.rau.edu.uy/pedeciba

Contact:
Secretaría del Area Química
Facultad de Química
Gabriela García <gabig@bilbo.edu.uy>
Tel.: (+598 2) 924 23 38
Fax: (+598 2) 924 19 06

Snapshot of Uruguay

Nationality: noun: Uruguayan(s); adjective: Uruguayan

Languages: Spanish

Land boundaries: total: 1 564 km

Border countries: Argentina 579 km, Brazil 985 km

Coastline: 660 km

Uruguay population: 3.1 million

Estimated number of research scientists: 1 100, including 300 in chemistry

Estimated number of professional chemists: 2 100 (i.e., 1 200 chem. pharm. and 900 chem. eng.)


PEDECIBA (as of July 2002)

Postgraduate (M.Sc. and Ph.D.) students and graduates: 831
Total number of students and researchers: 756
Chemistry students and researchers: 195 (second after Biology with 390)

Budget allocation over the period 1987-2002:
Equipment and publications: 58%
Human resources training: 27%
Administration: 10%
Supplies: 5%


Number of times that Uruguayan research has been published in journals cited in ISI or Current Contents and registered in PEDECIBAdatabase, 1988 to 2000:
1988-1990: 130; 1991-1992: 296; 1993-1994: 368; 1995-1996: 425; 1997-1998: 533; 1999-2000: 620
(Larger Image)

 

 

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