Structural changes to aid science in developing countries

Nature 464, 486 (25 March 2010) | doi:10.1038/464486c; Published online 24 March 2010

Structural changes to aid science in developing countries

Mauricio Terrones1

1. Departamento de Ciencia e Ingeniería de Materiales e Ingeniería Química, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, 28911 Leganés, Spain

I am quoted in a News story as saying that I wouldn't work in a developing nation again, after having been forced to leave my laboratory at the federal Institute for Scientific and Technological Research of San Luis Potosí in Mexico (Nature 464, 148–149; 2010). Because I have many valued friends and collaborators in developing countries, I would like to clarify this statement, in case it should cause offence.

My brother and I returned to Mexico after doing our doctorates and postdoctoral work abroad, with a view to establishing a first-class laboratory. We showed unequivocally that working in a developing nation is no bar to doing excellent science. Our students from Mexico's first graduate programme in nanotechnology have excelled. Our key strategy was to work as a team with an innovative horizontal philosophy that involved people from different areas of research in various countries.

Such multinational collaborations are crucial to the success of science, technology and innovation in developing nations. This in turn will help to fight poverty and social problems by improving the quality of life of their inhabitants.

My statement was therefore not intended as an adverse reflection on science in developing nations. Establishing world-class nanotechnology in Mexico called for an incredible amount of effort and personal sacrifice. My declaration was to do with this, indicating only that I would be reluctant at this point in my career to start again from scratch on such a colossal undertaking.

As a scientist, I shall continue to help developing nations, including Mexico, to boost their talented researchers in nanotechnology. But structural changes in the operation of science, its leadership and working philosophy will be necessary, as well as proper teamwork and a promotion system for promising young scientists.