First-Timers

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Nov 1, 2007
Kirsten Weir

First-Timers

By Kirsten Weir


This year, Mexico and Brazil debuted on the list of the top countries for academic research. How did they get there?

Guadalupe Virginia Nevárez-Moorillón, a microbiologist at the Autonomous University of Chihuahua, says demographics are working in Mexico's favor. "Mexico is a country of young people," she says, and the number of enthusiastic students interested in science is on the rise. According to René Drucker-Colín, the vice chancellor for science of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, about 1,500 new PhDs graduated this year, compared to around 1,200 five years ago.

Yet Drucker-Colín says there's room for improvement: Federal funding for science has decreased from 0.41% of Mexico's gross national product in 2000 to just 0.33%, or $28.9 billion Mexican pesos ($2.7 billion USD) in 2007, he says. "We're really hurting in terms of government support toward science throughout the country," he says. Fortunately, that doesn't seem to deter the scientists. "Between 1997 and 2007, we increased our publication rate by 84%," he says. "People are very enthusiastic about their research."

In Brazil, the government has stepped up its support of science, says Paula Lopes, a veterinarian and now a PhD candidate in human reproduction at the Federal University of São Paulo. "Brazil has always done good quality research," Lopes says. "What made the difference now is that Brazil is more worried about the health and well being of [its] people than it was before."

Erica Rangel de Azevedo calculates calorimetric parameters at the Drug Technology Institute at Fiocruz in Rio de Janeiro

Courtesy of ROGERIO REIS

Carlos Morel, director of the Center for Technological Development in Health at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation credits Brazil's new ranking to "a long maturing process that is putting science, technology, and innovation back [on] the radar screen." He notes a record-high 2008 budget for the Studies and Projects Funding Agency that finances science and technology projects in academia and industry. This year's budget of $2.8 billion Brazilian (about $1.5 billion USD) is a 40% increase over 2007.

Morel also praises government programs such as a Ministry of Education initiative to provide all public universities and research institutions with unrestricted online access to more than 11,000 scientific journals. The agency spends more than $30 million (USD) each year on subscription fees, he says. "Even institutions located in remote areas of the Amazon have access to the best scientific journals of the world."