Website linking Latin American scientists launches
The new website CienciAmérican (Science of the Americas) — the brainchild of a Cornell neurobiologist — combines some functions of Facebook and Craigslist. It launched Aug. 16 to help Latin American scientists exchange ideas among themselves and their North American colleagues.
As a Jefferson Science fellow of the U.S. State Department, Timothy Devoogd, Cornell professor of psychology, spent several months last year conferring with academics in Central America and South America, “trying to come up with ways these scientists could be linked more closely with scientists in the United States,” Devoogd said.
“One of the things I kept running into was how little these people even knew about each other,” he said. This lack of contact with fellow scientists in the same fields prompted Devoogd to suggest a website in Spanish and English as a medium to help scientists get to know each other and exchange information about conferences, scholarships and equipment.
“Many of these universities and researchers are still not taking as full advantage of the Internet as they could be, so this site is one step toward helping with that,” Devoogd said.
He will write an editorial for the site every two weeks. An upcoming piece will highlight opportunities for research in Latin America that many U.S. scientists don’t know about. For example, in his travels Devoogd learned that El Salvador produces more of its electricity from geothermal sources than any country except for Iceland. Chile’s national power grid uses solar and hydro energy.
“We can learn from them,” Devoogd said. “There are natural resources in different places where coordinated research between their country and ours could result in stuff that’s good for both of us.”
He also plans to discuss implementing a peer-review system, creating funds dedicated to collaborative research with U.S. scientists and setting priorities aligned with national development. Devoogd will also invite prominent Latin American scientists and State Department officials to contribute editorials.
“When I proposed this at the State Department, they thought it was a great idea too — they’re really into new media,” Devoogd said. He worked with information technology staff at Galileo University in Guatemala to develop the site, spinning off the ideas that Devoogd and State Department officials proposed.
To promote the site, Devoogd plans to alert major academic societies in engineering, chemistry, neuroscience and other fields. He will also ask the national science agencies of Latin American countries to link to CienciAmérican.org. The State Department’s America.gov site will feature the site, and its Fulbright alumni will be informed.
Rather than aim for a certain number of subscribers (the site is free of charge), Devoogd will gauge CienciAmérican’s success by its usefulness. “If people are able to start finding out about opportunities, to start exchanging students and equipment as a result of this, I’ll see it as having been a big success and perhaps expand it to other regions of the world,” he said.
The project is funded by the U.S. Department of State.