Vietnams Science Tech and innovationVietnam sits at a crucial point as its economic development is currently facing difficulties with labor and capital forces that could hinder proper and sustainable development. Therefore, Vietnam must rely on a boost in productivity to successfully increase the country’s GDP growth. At this moment Vietnam’s science, technology and innovation system can provide numerous advantages in accomplishing its goal of building a sustainable economy. By taking proper advantage of its science and innovation, Vietnam could create numerous opportunities for its future.

Vietnam’s Successes

While Vietnam has a long history of respected and reputable scientific research, particularly in agriculture and biology, its innovation system is only beginning to emerge. Vietnam has numerous advantages it can utilize in order to improve its science, technology and innovation (STI) system.

Geographically, Vietnam is one of the most dynamic regions in the world. Over the past 2 decades, Vietnam has seen strong economic development and a massive reduction in poverty rates. In 1993, the percentage of Vietnamese people in poverty was 58, but by 2011 the percentage had dropped to 12. Vietnam’s education system and educational efforts have also been largely successful. The education systems success is demonstrated by a 98 percent literacy rate in Vietnam.

Furthermore, since the nation becomes industrialized, it has seen an increase in exports of an eclectic variety. Previously exports have been predominantly in agriculture, which it has maintained. However, in 2009, its exports expanded to include electronic equipment (5 percent), jewelry (5 percent) and machinery (4 percent).

Obstacles and Solutions

Vietnam’s current science, technology and innovation (STI) system contains several weaknesses. They include a lack of proper infrastructure, poor research and development in the business sector and weak STI government policies. Vietnam is also faced with several threats to its STI system such as a slowdown in economic growth in recent years, failure to prepare for international cooperation and failure to improve government and business institutions to deal with corruption.

To address these threats and weaknesses to innovation the World Bank has formulated a list of recommendations to serve as solutions to these problems. The list includes:

  • Improving the framework for innovations: All aspects of Vietnam’s framework, including infrastructure, the business sector, openness to trade and foreign direct investment and the tax system affect Vietnam’s innovative system.
  • Improving governance of innovation system: The government plays an integral role in regulating all aspects of STI systems, including setting priorities and ensuring adequate performance.
  • Strengthening the human resource base for innovation: Improving the educational system and allowing current workforce members opportunities to improve their skills as well as placing heavier emphasis on soft skills is essential for innovation.

Looking Forward

With the proper development of Vietnam’s science, technology and innovation System, the country has numerous potential opportunities to pursue. It could lead to a positive social and economic impact on the country’s population. Vietnam’s economic system has the potential to be upgraded and diversified with the development of a dynamic business sector. Lastly, the improvement of Vietnam’s STI system could be the driving force to sustaining Vietnam’s recent economic development.

Randall Costa
Photo: Flickr

Role of STEM in Developing CountriesScience, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are important for building and maintaining the development of any successful country. From the medical scientists, who develop treatments for diseases, to the civil engineers, who design and build a nation’s infrastructure, every aspect of human life is based on the discoveries and developments of scientists and engineers. The importance of STEM today should not be underestimated as its role is becoming increasingly significant in the future. The technology produced today is altering people’s lives at a rate faster than ever before. Consequently, it is vital for countries seeking to reduce their poverty levels to adopt new scientific research and technology. In doing so, these countries can improve their economy, health care system and infrastructure. As this impacts all aspects of society, the role of STEM in developing countries is of significant importance.

STEM and Economic Progress

STEM education fosters a skill set that stresses critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. This type of skill set encourages innovation among those who possess it. Similarly, a country’s economic development and stability are dependent on its ability to invent and develop new products. Technological innovation in the modern age is only obtainable through the expertise of specialists with knowledge of recent STEM research. Therefore, the role of STEM in developing countries is important because a country’s economy is completely dependent on new developments from technology and science.

Overall, the economic performance of metropolises with higher STEM-oriented economies is superior to those with lower STEM-oriented economies. Within these metropolises, there is lower unemployment, higher incomes, higher patents per worker (a sign of innovation), and higher imports and exports of gross domestic products. According to many experts, this holds true at a national level as well. The world’s most successful countries tend to efficiently utilize the most recent scientific developments and technologies.

In recent years, there is a major increase in the number of science and engineering degrees earned in India. India now has the largest number of STEM graduates in the world, putting the country on the right track for economic development. This has led to widespread innovation in India and a consistent increase in its gross domestic product. The role of STEM in developing countries can thus improve its economy. As of early 2019, India has seen an increase of 7.7 percent in its total GDP.

STEM and Health Care

Over the past 50 years, the Western world has made remarkable progress in medical science. With new breakthroughs developed through vaccinations and treatment, many serious diseases in developing countries are now curable. Common causes of death for children in developing countries are diseases such as malaria, measles, diarrhea and pneumonia. These diseases cause a large death toll in developing countries, but they have been largely eradicated from developed countries through proper vaccinations. As a result, these diseases take a large toll on the children of developing countries. In developing countries, a high percentage of the population is under 15 years of age. As such, it is important to prevent diseases that affect children under 15.

Lately, Brazil has seen an epidemic level of yellow fever which has resulted in numerous deaths. Brazil has addressed this by implementing a mass immunization campaign. In particular, this program will deliver vaccines to around 23.8 million Brazilian citizens in 69 different municipalities. The role of STEM in developing countries with preventable diseases will be vital to improving health and life expectancy rates.

Engineering and Infrastructure

Engineers build, create and design machines and public works to address needs and improve quality of life. Engineers construct and maintain a nation’s infrastructure, such as its fundamental facilities and systems. This includes roads, waterways, electrical grids, bridges, tunnels and sewers. Infrastructure is vital to a country, as it enables, maintains and enhances societal living conditions.

Subsequently, poor infrastructure can seriously hinder a nation’s economic development. This is the case in many African countries. Africa controls only 1 percent of the global manufacturing market despite accounting for 15 percent of the world’s total population. Ultimately, poor infrastructure, such as transportation, communications and energy, stunts a country’s ability to control a larger share of the national market.

Afghanistan has improved its energy infrastructure, using a large portion of the assistance received from the U.S. Through this effort, they have been able to reduce electricity loss from 60 percent to 35 percent. Consequently, they have improved long term sustainability and created a reliable energy system for their citizens. The role of STEM in developing countries is important on a large scale, improving infrastructure to impact their citizens’ daily lives.

STEM and the Future of the World

Societies seeking new scientific knowledge and encouraging creative and technological innovations will be able to properly utilize new technologies, increase productivity, and experience long term sustained economic growth. The developing societies that succeed will be able to improve the living standards of its population. As our world becomes more interconnected, countries prioritizing STEM education and research will make significant advances in alleviating poverty and sustaining economic, cultural and societal growth. Undoubtedly, the role of STEM in developing countries is of significant importance, just as it is in our modern world.

Randall Costa
Photo: Flickr

Saving Premature Babies Globally with Scientific Research
Globally, an estimated 15 million babies are born prematurely, meaning they have completed less than 37 weeks of gestation. Scientific research throughout the years has been successful in saving premature babies on a global scale. For instance, India is a developing country whose focus is on saving the lives of preterm babies.

Achievements of Scientific Research Regarding Premature Babies

In 1953, researcher Dr. John Clements discovered that there was a way to save millions of premature babies around the world through his understanding of lung functionality. He found that a slippery substance, a surfactant, can help lessen the surface tension in the alveolar membranes. Therefore, scientists discovered that a lack of surfactant connects to human lung disease.

Another researcher, Dr. Mary Ellen Avery, in 1959, used Dr. Clements’ research to find that the lungs of premature babies cannot produce surfactant. Since then, saving premature babies globally has been made more possible through the FDA approval of five synthetic surfactants, which helps prevent respiratory distress syndrome in premature babies.

A recent innovative, surfaxin, was approved in 2012 and is a method to help with stopping the disease in premature babies. Dr. Clements say: “When we began this work back in the 1950s, the mortality from RDS was above 90 percent. Today, that mortality is 5 percent or less.” The original findings of Dr. Clements helped lead to a solution of saving the lives of preterm babies all over the world.

Premature Babies in India

Due to having the most significant number of premature babies in the world, the vast size and population of India can find hope through these scientific discoveries. In addition to this prevalence, one should also consider gestational age.

Usually, ultrasound imaging is completed in the first trimester. One thing that makes this hard is that ultrasound calls for training to receive the images accurately. This can be hard to do because ultrasound imaging is not practiced regularly; instead, the mothers are asked the date of the last period, which results in inaccurate assessments of the time of conception.

Increasing Affordability and Impact

Moving forward, a more affordable and recent hardware-software can be made possible through positive changes in the ultrasound hardware, such as modifications to the core technology.

An issue in this field is that there is consistently a lack of trained healthcare workers. Machine learning and development of software technologies have improved to combat this deficiency and reduce the need for trained healthcare personnel overall.

Recent discoveries have shown that a deficiency of selenium could be related to more preterm babies’ births. The researchers performed a genome-wide association study in an extensive database and combined it with independent data to acquire results.

Future Discoveries on the Horizon

Research is being done in Africa and Asia to see if such processes actually work. These areas are predominantly where selenium deficiency is present, but these tests could prove crucial to saving premature babies globally as selenium contains proteins present in body functions.

Preterm births are traced back to inflammation, and the body function of producing antioxidants prevents inflammation. This is one example of how scientific research can greatly impact studies on premature births.

In fact, scientific research has made it possible for successful progress to be achieved in India and all around the world when it comes to saving the lives of premature babies. All of these recent discoveries create a positive sense of hope around the world in the quest of ending the problem of premature babies. The world is getting closer day by day to having more babies born healthy.

– Kelly Kipfer
Photo: Flickr

Are Natural Disasters Getting Worse?According to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, the amount of flood and storm catastrophes have risen by 7.4 percent annually in recent decades. With reports of excessive weather damage constantly in the news, it is important to ask: Are natural disasters getting worse? 

By definition, natural disasters are any form of catastrophic events induced by nature or natural activities of the Earth. Some examples include earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, droughts, tsunamis and tornadoes. The severity of such disasters is typically measured by the number of deaths, economic loss and the nation’s capacity to rebuild.

Many natural disasters are beyond human control. The constant motion of Earth’s tectonic plates initiates earthquakes and tsunamis. Fluctuation in solar radiation infiltrating the atmosphere and oceans give rise to storms in the summer and blizzards in the winter.

However, sometimes natural disasters aren’t so natural and are caused by humanity’s interference with the Earth’s system.

For example, as environmental pollution increases, humans are contributing more energy to the system; which strengthens the likelihood of repeated hazards such as flash floods, bushfires, heatwaves and tropical cyclones. 

So are natural disasters getting worse? The answer is yes. The number of geophysical disasters on Earth’s surface, like earthquakes, landslides and volcano eruptions, have remained steady since the 1970s. But the number of climate-related catastrophes has vastly increased. The amount of damage done to the economy due to these catastrophes has seen a steady upsurge.

There were triple the number of natural disasters between 2000 to 2009 as the number that occurred between 1980 to 1989. A large majority, 80 percent, of this growth is caused by climate-related happenings.

It may no longer be important to ask: Are natural disasters getting worse? But instead: Why are natural catastrophes getting worse?

The scale of disasters has swelled due to higher rates of urbanization, deforestation, environmental degradation and escalating climatic elements like high temperatures, extreme rain and snow and more brutal wind and water storms.

Dangerous events do not need to result in a tragedy. Limiting vulnerability and increasing the ability to respond to these disasters can save lives. Additionally, the continuous evolution of science and technology is making it more possible to anticipate disasters, provide aid quicker and allow for the rebuilding of cities in safer areas.

– Zainab Adebayo

Photo: Flickr

The developed world is often seen as the beacon of scientific innovation, while the developing world seems to wallow in poverty and underdevelopment. In spite of the challenges that citizens of developing countries face, they have managed to achieve some impressive scientific breakthroughs that benefit the whole world. In this article, The Borgen Project highlights four scientific developments from the developing world.

Cuban Lung Cancer Vaccine
Cuba is a small island nation where state workers are paid $20 per month, and there are shortages of everything from electricity to internet access. In spite of their lack of technology and their slim salaries, Cuban doctors have developed the world’s first lung cancer vaccine. The Cuban Center of Molecular Immunology in Havana developed CimaVax as the first treatment of its kind against one of the deadliest forms of cancer. Cimavax is relatively cheap to produce and store, has low toxicity and appears to cause only mild side effects. It is available in some Latin American countries and has already begun tests in the United States, the United Kingdom and other developed nations.

Sierra Leonean Breast Cancer Treatment
Sierra Leone is a poor West African country that has recently been ravaged by civil war and an Ebola outbreak. It is also home to Sandra Musujusu, the developer of an alternative treatment for breast cancer. The World Bank’s Academic Centers of Excellence project in Africa funded Musujusu’s research at the University of Science and Technology, Abuja, in Nigeria. The new treatment focuses on the development of biodegradable polymers for the treatment of triple-negative breast cancer. By treating this aggressive sub-type of breast cancer common in women of African descent, Sandra Musujusu is pioneering a treatment for women worldwide.

Kenyan App to End FGM
One in four Kenyan girls experiences the traumatic human rights violation of female genital mutilation. The self-named “Restorers,” a group of Kenyan teenage girls, have developed an app to stop this cruel practice. The app, I-Cut, offers numerous services, including connecting at-risk girls with rescue centers and providing medical and legal help to girls who have been cut. The app is so impressive and important for thousands of girls that the Restorers became the only Africans to be invited to Google’s international Tehcnovation competition in California.

Kenyan Toilets that Turn Waste into Fuel
Even though it was founded by two American students, Sanivation is now a Kenyan startup that employs 650 Kenyans and serves a vast East African population. Sanivation addresses the dangers of insufficient waste disposal and sanitation systems by installing special toilets in homes in East Africa. In developing countries like Kenya, 90 percent of waste is disposed of without treatment. These toilets not only provide safe and healthy sanitation but also turn human waste into sustainable and eco-friendly fuel. In this way, the special toilets provide sanitation and a fuel source to the impoverished population while working to stave off climate change.

These are just a few of the scientific developments from the developing world. While they do not negate the serious problems that plague people in these areas, they do paint a brighter picture for developing nations and for us all.

Bret Anne Serbin

Photo: Flickr

IMB Uses New Science for Social GoodThe International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) is a major research organization that focuses on computer wear and consultations. They also study cognitive computing and information technology. As of 2017, IBM holds the most patents of any business in the United States, making it a hub for progressive thinking. Aware of their resources, IBM announced their new program, Science for Social Good, on June 6. This program encourages IBM to partner with scientists and nonprofit organizations solving social issues through a more modern lens.

The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies is one of the organizations IBM is working with. The Cary Institute’s mission is to research and address the problem of the Zika virus in Central and South America. When the Zika virus arrived in Brazil through mosquitos, it gave babies many life-threatening diseases, such as brain under-development. Without a widely distributed vaccine in countries where only high-class citizens have access to health care, many unborn children are at risk.

Science for Social Good is assisting The Cary Institute in “applying machine learning and data science tools to identify primate species that could become animal reservoirs for Zika” in order to contain and combat the disease. In a short period of time, IBM technology helped pinpoint areas where Zika is most prevalent. Then, they created  through mobile phone apps that map out these locations, allowing citizens to stay more informed and cautious. This technology also identified primate species that carry the disease in the wild.

In addition to The Cary Institute, IBM is assisting the emergency food service St. John’s Bread and Life. IBM will create an artificial intelligence supply chain model of emergency food operations and share it with cloud computing technology. Thus, Bread and Life can share its most advanced practices with other organizations to better help those in need. The digitization of new organizations would make both education on hunger issues and providing aid to the needy much easier.

“Science for Social Good is built on the premise that applied science and technology can solve the world’s toughest problems,” reads IBM’s research page. With companies like these beginning to take a more globalized approach to problem-solving, we may see more research projects like Science for Social Good in the future.

Vicente Vera

Photo: Flickr

Joan Rose: World Water Week's Champion
The 2016 World Water Week, attended by 3,100 people from more than 120 countries, was held in Stockholm, Sweden, where the theme was “Water for Sustainable Growth.” While this year’s World Water Week was primarily focused on water as it relates to the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the U.N. General Assembly and last year’s COP 21 climate agreement, many issues, such as pollution and sanitation, were raised.

The worldwide contamination of water is one of the greatest health threats of our time, as many experts believe that our oceans, rivers, lakes and wetlands are more polluted now than at any other time in history.

A recent report released by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) found that as many as 323 million people in Africa, Asia and Latin America are at risk of contracting infections from pathogen-ridden water. Apart from being a health issue, polluted water in these continents negatively affects food supplies, economies and inequality experienced by women, children and the poor.

Professor Joan Rose, a microbiologist and the Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research at Michigan State University, is one of the foremost scientists working to end worldwide water pollution. At this year’s World Water Week, Rose won the 2016 Stockholm Water Prize, the greatest honor that an individual working in water research or development can receive.

Rose has dedicated most of her life to this field, working in countries such as Malawi, Kenya and Singapore, as well as numerous organizations including the World Health Organization, the International Water Association and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Throughout her career, Joan Rose has led research, set standards and educated the public about water pollution. While the issue may seem overwhelming, Rose believes that the future is bright, stating in an article published by the Guardian that, “There is more public support, more money, more political will to clean up water. We have more knowledge and more willingness to pay.”

Liam Travers

Photo: Flickr

Evaptainer: How the Science of Sweating can Increase Food Security
The founders of Evaptainers have harnessed the science of sweating into a device that could help the 7 million people in the world who have no access to refrigeration. While the typical fridge requires electricity for vapor compression refrigeration, the Evaptainer uses evaporative cooling to keep food cold and extend its shelf life without any electricity.

The Evaptainer brings modern-day technology to an idea that has been around for several millennia. At its most basic level, a refrigerating device that uses evaporative cooling contains an inner chamber that holds food. The outer chamber contains an evaporative medium, such as sand, between the outer and inner containers. Water is poured over the evaporative medium, which cools as it evaporates.

The science is simple. To evaporate, water must absorb heat energy from the environment in order to become hot enough to change its state, either from solid to liquid or liquid to gas. The heat the water draws from its environment, called latent heat, cools the environment from which it draws heat.

In the case of the Evaptainer, this process cools the inner container that holds the food. Evaptainers can cool the 60-liter inner container by up to 35 degrees Fahrenheit, extending the shelf-life of food from around two days to two weeks, in hot weather.

Bishop Sanyal, a MIT professor not affiliated with Evaptainer, told MIT Technology Review that Evaptainers could help increase food security. However, he sees the $25 unit price as posing a possible problem for families’ ability to access the devices. For example, the average family in Morocco makes $60-$100 per month as explained by Sanyal, so paying $25 upfront could be a challenge. Nonetheless, if families are able to make the investment, having an Evaptainer could save them money in the long run.

Another challenge Evaptainer faces is that humid air can evaporate less moisture than dry air. As a result, in past 40 percent humidity, the device cools significantly less than it would in its optimal environment of 30 percent humidity or less.

For now, at least in optimal environments, Evaptainers have the potential to improve the quality of life of those who have no access to electricity or refrigeration and reduce the amount of spoiled food waste. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, such progress represents about $310 billion annually in developing countries alone.

Laura Isaza

Photo: Flickr

Calestous Juma: Integrating Scientific Developments with Societal Needs
Calestous Juma, professor of the Practice of International Development at Harvard University, recently published an article entitled “Forget Natural Resource: it’s Science and Tech that will Transform Africa.” The article explains the importance of more closely integrating scientific developments with societal needs.

Juma explains how there is a prevailing view that science is separate from ongoing developments in society. People believe that scientific advances occur removed from society and that it is simply convenient when scientific developments happen to benefit society in some way.

However, Calestous Juma believes that making societal improvement a goal for scientific researchers could net more efficient results. He points to the second law of thermodynamics as an example. While engineers were attempting to improve the steam engine for practical purposes, they ended up coming up with the second law of thermodynamics. Here, a development in scientific theory arose while trying to improve a facet of society.

A clear modern day example of what Juma proposes can be seen in the Grand Challenges initiatives launched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Grand Challenges Exploration is an initiative that issues a set of challenges twice a year. Researchers apply with ideas they have to solve those challenges, and monetary grants are awarded to the most deserving.

For example, the initiative recently issued challenges to “Design New Analytics Approaches for Malaria Elimination” and to “Explore New Ways to Measure Delivery and Use of Digital Financial Services Data”. Proactively calling upon science to assist in these kinds of societal advancement provides a more streamlined pathway for scientific developments to lead to societal betterment.

Juma also questions the way universities separate the hard sciences from the social sciences in their academic curriculums. If you visit a college, you are likely to see people defining themselves as STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) students versus humanities students. This arbitrary distinction carries on to pervade the view of society in general, causing scientific developments to not be as helpful to society as it could be.

Calestous Juma calls for more integration between the various academic disciplines. In real world applications, often one needs a mix of skills from multiple disciplines of study. We need to acknowledge the value of interdisciplinary knowledge moving forward.

Juma proposes what he calls “innovation universities.” These universities would “combine research, teaching, extension and commercialization of new products and services,” giving students the means to work towards scientific advances in the context of societal demands.

Edmond Kim

Photo: Flickr

Poverty Mapping with the Help of Artificial Intelligence
Poverty mapping has proven to be a difficult task in past years. Poor countries are often reluctant to account for poverty due to corruption or the inability to do so because of ongoing conflicts. The World Bank reports that only 20 African countries conducted two or more population surveys on poverty from 2000 to 2010.

A new study from Stanford University hopes to improve poverty mapping by combining high-resolution satellite imagery with artificial intelligence.

According to a feature article published by online tech magazine Motherboard, Neal Jean, a Ph.D. engineering student at Stanford, has designed a machine learning algorithm that can predict poverty in Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Using satellite imagery to determine “nightlights” and levels of economic activity as a method of poverty mapping is nothing new. What’s different about the algorithm designed by Jean and his team is that it looks at daylight images of infrastructure, such as roads and metropolitan areas, which it then uses to identify nighttime patterns.

“Our basic approach involved a machine learning technique called ‘transfer learning,’ which is the idea that you can solve a hard problem – in our case, predicting poverty from satellite images – by trying to solve an easier one,” Jean said.

According to Motherboard, the algorithm may prove to be a very effective method of poverty mapping, especially given the cost of traditional household surveys and the lack of viable alternatives. Another advantage of the machine learning model is its transparency, as it doesn’t rely on private or protected information.

Jean told Motherboard that he hopes to make the technology open-source and cooperate with NGOs to put the algorithm to use. “If we could provide them with high-resolution poverty maps, they could overlay them on regions where operations already exist, and ultimately inform where they distribute funding,” he argued.

Jean’s machine learning algorithm is not the only artificial intelligence tool that is providing better data for poverty alleviation efforts. South African computer scientist Muthoni Masinde developed a solution that can forecast droughts with 98 percent accuracy, combining traditional knowledge with new technologies. In recognition of her achievements, she received a Distinguished Young Women Researcher award at the 2016 South African Women in Science Awards.

Technological advance has been the greatest impetus for poverty reduction throughout history, and artificial intelligence is the future of poverty mapping. It provides economists and scientists with better data in order to pinpoint and resolve problems that are holding developing countries back.

Philip Katz

Photo: Flickr