Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Dr. Thomas Scott Klinger --- Panelist for the Best Mauritian Scientist Award

When our work was done, our hosts took us
 around the island, justifiably proud of their
 very diverse society.  This is Ganga Talao
 (the Grand Basin) Hindu Temple at the
 very tippy top of Mauritius.  I’m in my diving gear
 because my hosts felt that, as a marine
 biologist, I would want to see Blue Bay,
 a coral reef that is a World Heritage Site…  They were 
absolutely right…

Every few years, the island nation of Mauritius presents an award to the Mauritian scientist who they feel has best represented the scientific aspirations of their country on an international stage.  In 2016, one of the judges on their Selection Panel had to recuse herself because she had been elected to national office.  Because they hoped to maintain an international perspective, the Mauritian Ministry of Technology, Communication, and Innovation asked the Embassy of the United States to suggest a replacement to serve on the Selection Panel.  I had had interactions with the United States Department of State in my previous travels, so the U. S. Embassy in Mauritius suggested that I could serve as a Selection Panelist.  It was a bit of a hurry up, catch up at the very end of the semester, but traveling to Mauritius was breathtaking.  I flew non-stop from London, across the Sahara, down the Great Rift Valley of Africa, across Madagascar, over the Seychelles Islands, and off into the Indian Ocean.  Mauritius is a small volcanic island, surrounded by fringing reefs.  It has steep forested hillsides surrounded by sugar cane fields.  I and the other international Panelist stayed in the seaside town of Flic en Flak.  The linguist on the Selection Panel was very amused to learn that we thought the town’s name was onomatopoeia for the sound of the waves lapping the cliff sides, when the name is in fact creole from the original Dutch for ‘flat and fertile land’.  Over the week I was visiting, our job at the Mauritian Research Council was to review the scholarly work of the finalists in the Best Mauritian Scientist Competition.  We read publications, evaluated contributions to scholarly societies, examined impacts of contributions, and interviewed the candidates about their career and work.  Nominees came from every branch of the sciences.  We compared the work of information technologists, computational chemists, marine scientists, economists, and a whole host of other scientific disciplines.  The quality of the work and the breadth of the international networks of collaboration of these scientists was truly staggering.  In the end, we had to petition the Ministry to please let us give more than one prize.  The reason for this incredible concentration of scientific talent became evident to me at the Best Mauritian Scientist Award Ceremony.  In the introduction to this national televised event, the Honorable Etienne Sinatambou, Minister of Technology, Communication and Innovation proudly announced the successful completion of this past year’s initiative:  Every 3rd grader in Mauritius now has their own tablet computer.  He also announce that they were well ahead of schedule on next year’s initiative:  To connect every household in the entire nation to the internet by high speed fiber optics.  The Award Ceremony had music, dance, speeches by the leaders of government, and a full acknowledgement and celebration of recent scientific work.  It was very humbling to present my research as part of such an unabashed celebration of science and the work that scientists do.  So, no…  It wasn’t as Francine suggested:  Mauritius calling the dodos home to roost.  Rather, I was given the opportunity to help honor the very best scientific work currently being done.