Physicists Commit to Sustainable DevelopmentThe World Conference on Physics and Sustainable Development, a landmark event organized to celebrate the International Year of Physics, was held in Durban, South Africa, from October 31 to November 2. Hundreds of physicists from around the world formulated a plan aimed at resolving the challenges posed by sustainable development.
Noting that many contributions made by physics to the global economy in areas such as electronics, materials and computer technology, or to health through x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging and nuclear medicine, have been of greater benefit to people in the developed world than in the developing world, the Durban Conference was, in the words of Edmund Zingu, President of the South African Institute of Physics, “an attempt to re-direct the attention and efforts of physicists towards the Millennium Development Goals".
The Conference was jointly sponsored by UNESCO, by the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics, by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP), and by the South African Institute of Physics. The plan adopted by the physicists centres on the four themes of the conference: physics education; energy and environment; physics and health; and physics and economic development.
For each theme covered during the conference, participants developed a plan of action for implementation by the physics community:
Concerning physics education, physicists pledged to make high-quality physics resources widely available in developing countries by establishing a website along with Resource Centres in Africa, Asia and Latin America. These will prepare instructional materials and model workshops for teacher trainers in Asia, Latin America and Africa. The resulting resource material will be made available on the web. A multidisciplinary mobile science team will also be created to provide online support.
The Durban conference's second theme was physics and economic development. Physics makes a vital contribution to the economy: according to a recent report, physics-based industries account for 43% of manufacturing employment in the United Kingdom. Other proposed projects include a Training Facility for Physicists in Economic Development to teach entrepreneurship; an online network devoted to physics and agriculture; and a joint research project on nanoscience and nanotechnology aimed at economic development with a focus on water, air and energy.
Under the umbrella of energy and environment, efforts to enhance efficiency and reduce pollution in transportation will include investigating new battery technologies and improved internal combustion technology for hybrid application. Teams will develop solar photovoltaic technologies, including new and environmentally-friendly processes for generating and storing electricity.
Finally, under physics and health, educational resources will be made available through the Physics and Engineering Resources for Healthcare Development (PERHD) website, sponsored by the World Conference. Further projects include creating a network of training centres in physics of radiation therapy using shared resources from institutions around the world and providing guidelines to elaborate educational programmes in medical physics.