Virtual nanotech centre links Argentina, South Africa

The agreement was signed by the science ministers in Buenos Aires Copyright: Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation, Argentina

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[BARILOCHE] Argentina is to collaborate with South Africa in a virtual nanotechnology centre aimed at improving the research capacity of both countries.

An agreement, which builds on recent research collaboration between the two countries, was signed in Buenos Aires last month (17 July) by Argentina’s science minister, Lino Barañao, and his South African counterpart, Naledi Pandor.

National coordinators, to be appointed in the next three months, will identify financial sources and outline specific cooperation opportunities in several nanotechnology areas, such as food security and biomedicine. Although the funds have not yet been designated to the project, it will start off as being publicly funded, with the goal of raising private investment in the future.

Argentina is already participating in virtual research centres with other countries in Latin America, including Brazil, Cuba, Mexico and Uruguay. But this is the first such initiative to link the country’s researchers with an African country.

The centre will allow scientists to communicate more easily online, helping research groups to develop joint projects and training opportunities,and to exchange experiences about patents and intellectual property.

The two countries had previously signed a science and technology (S&T) cooperation agreement in Pretoria in 2006, when nanotechnology was one of subjects, along with agriculture, health and energy.

"Argentina has great experience and international quality in the area of nanomaterials, with strong groups that have already produced applicable results and patents," said Águeda Menvielle, director of international relationships at Argentina’s science ministry.

South Africa, meanwhile, will soon open three new nanotechnology research centres, some of them focusing on diseases of the poor, according to Menvielle.

"Having a relationship with a country with similar characteristics to ours is an enriching experience for forming opinions, solving problems and opening up Africa," Menvielle added.

She told SciDev.Net that since 2006 there have been several joint activities in the nanotech field by the countries that "created the basis of this new virtual centre".

Thirty-five collaborative projects have been funded since then, in various scientific fields, and a call remains open until the end of August for this year’s research project grants.

There have also been joint workshops in both countries on nanotechnology and water research.

"It is important that there are international agreements to collaborate in S&T between countries with similarities in development," said Rodolfo Daniel Sánchez, a nanotech researcher at CONICET, Argentina’s scientific research council.

"Exchanges between scientists, technologists and students are always positive experiences for both parties," Sánchez told SciDev.Net.

He added that it is important to see if this kind of South-South cooperation can foster "real independence of technology" from developed countries in the long term.

Link to Argentina and South Africa research call, open until 31 August (in Spanish)