Professor Nuno Moled, based in Vienna, Austria, spoke to Expresso about the quality of science developed in Portugal, but also about the challenges related to its financing and communication with the public. The MIT-trained chemist was elected in 2018 Austria’s Scientist of the Year, and in the country where he lives he runs the Institute of Organic Chemistry at the University of Vienna.
This Wednesday, the 15th, he will participate in the official ceremony of the Pfizer Awards, an initiative of the Lisbon Medical Sciences Association and the pharmaceutical company, to talk about the relationship between science and art – if not for Nuno Molde’s passion for it. Music and science.
As a world-famous researcher living in Vienna, how do you see science in Portugal from abroad? What is your perception of the quality of scientific production and financing of this work?
There is no doubt that science in Portugal has witnessed great development in recent years. There are areas where the work done is as good as the best and others that are headed in that direction. In this sense, I recognize the remarkable progress in scientific production in Portugal. However, the issue of financing remains a challenge. The cliché “You can’t make an omelet without eggs” has as much to do with cooking as it does with science—and in more ways than one. If, as is clear, the very low percentage of GDP invested in science does not allow the country to take a real strategic priority in R&D, on the other hand, the way in which existing funds are applied needs constant improvement. . .
We have heard the government several times point to medical sciences and biotechnology as areas where Portugal has potential, but they are also areas in which the country can succeed internationally, with benefits for the population in terms of health and for the country’s treasury. Economic impact. What is your view on this matter?
I think it can always be dangerous, even reductive, for a country to “pick and choose” the areas in which it wants to succeed internationally when we talk about science. In the same way that it focuses on areas where we can be stronger, without a doubt, where we need to continue efforts, if it is in areas where we do not collectively have the critical mass needed to take a leadership role at the international level. With no coherent strategy ever adopted, they are unlikely to emerge from the “twisted dynasty.” Especially since futurology is a precise exercise: who can say today with certainty which scientific field can bring the greatest benefit to the population in terms of health and economic impact?
“It doesn’t matter where you were born, and it doesn’t matter if your family lives in a 200 square meter apartment in the center of Lisbon: if you are interested in the world around you, science offers unique possibilities for personal development.”
He worked hard to popularize science, focusing above all on the simple, engaging language associated with magic that appears in the way he talks about it. Do you share the opinion that the pandemic has brought most people closer to science?
In Portugal, I think so, the pandemic has reinforced the importance of science in everyday life. But the same has not been observed in other countries – and this is related to the enormous curiosity and interest that the general public in Portugal has acquired regarding scientific knowledge and technology. This is also largely due to the excellent work done by the Ciência Viva programme, which has already begun setting up schools across Europe. When I hold online sessions with schools in Portugal, from big cities to schools in small towns in the province, I always reinforce this aspect of science: it is the equalizer of social opportunities. It doesn’t matter where you were born, and it doesn’t matter if your family lives in a 200 square meter apartment in the center of Lisbon: if you are interested in the world around you, science offers unique possibilities for personal development.
What continues to fascinate you in this world of science?
Suddenly, there are two things: the way we solve each problem usually generates new questions, new problems to solve. And the way that, at the end of it all, after all the Xpto gadgets, the complex machines, the elaborate formulas and the abstract considerations, science is simply a way of looking at the world around us with endless curiosity.
He will be present at the Pfizer Awards to give a look at “Science as Art.” Is creativity what unites them?
You’re almost stealing part of the presentation from me (laughs). Yes, in the 19th century, the great scientist and excellent violinist, Theodor Billroth, said that “to regard science and art as opposites is a fallacy.” They are both children of imagination!
What is this
The Pfizer Research Awards, of which Expresso is a media partner, are the result of a partnership between the pharmaceutical company and the Lisbon Medical Sciences Association to promote research in this field in Portugal. Founded in 1956, this initiative distinguishes the best basic and clinical research work, carried out wholly or partly in Portuguese institutions by Portuguese or foreign researchers – more than 700 researchers have already been honored and more than 200 works awarded. At the 67th awards ceremony, the two winning projects for this year will be announced.
When, where and at what time?
Wednesday, November 15, at the Belem Cultural Center, in Lisbon, from 5:30 p.m. The event will be broadcast live on Expresso’s Facebook page.
Who are the speakers?
- Paulo Teixeira, Managing Director, Pfizer Portugal;
- Maria do Ceu Machado, President of the Lisbon Association of Medical Sciences;
- Nuno Molde, Director of the Institute of Organic Chemistry at the University of Vienna;
- Manuel Pizarro, Minister of Health (not yet confirmed).
Why is this event important?
Investment in science in Portugal, especially within the responsibility of the state budget, remains low and lags behind the European average. In 2022, the country’s R&D activities received the equivalent of 1.73% of the national GDP – 0.34% from public funds and the rest through private funds. Increasing financial support for research in the field of medical sciences, from the point of view of researchers and experts, should be a priority so that Portugal can assert itself on the international stage and contribute to scientific progress.
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