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Avicenna Conference: A Forum of Uzbek Talent in Cambridge (UK)

On March 12-13, 2011, Cambridge hosted a multidisciplinary conference for Uzbek graduate students doing original research projects in the UK. The event covered research in science, technology, social and political science in the conference entitled, “Avicenna Conference:  A Forum for PhD and Research Master's Students from Uzbekistan studying in the UK". It was organized by the Cambridge Central Asia Forum (CCAF) and the Center for Political Studies (CPS), with support from the Fund Forum of Culture and Arts of Uzbekistan, the Embassy of Uzbekistan in London, the British-Uzbek Society and “Tethys Petroleum Ltd”.

The event was attended by a high level academic delegation from Uzbekistan headed by Professor Shavkat Salikhov, President of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan. Among the distinguished guests from Uzbekistan were Professor Shuhrat Ehgamberdiev, Director of the Astronomical Institute of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan; Dr Kristina Toderich, leading plant scientist and expert on desert ecology; Ms Shahnoza Umarova, Director of the Avicenna International Association of Traditional Medicine, as well as Mr Ashraf Alikulov, Deputy Director of the CPS. The meeting started with the welcome speech given by the Ambassador of Uzbekistan to UK His Excellency Otabek Akbarov.

The British side was represented by leading scientists from the University of Cambridge, including Professor Lord Martin Rees, FRS, Royal Astronomer and Master of the Trinity College; Professor Peter Nolan, Chair of the University of Cambridge's Development Studies Committee; Professor Geoffrey Khan, FBA, Chairman of the Faculty Board of the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies; Professor Brian Josephson, Nobel laureate in Physics, Professor Siddharth Saxena, Chairman of the CCAF among others.

The conference focused on bringing young scholars from Uzbekistan, who are currently working and studying in various British research centers in contact with renowned British academics.  The organizers gathered more then 30 graduate students and specialists, who made presentations of their original research work and participated in discussions on different topics. The presentations covered disciplines varying from astronomy and medicine to biochemistry, economics, education, environment, history, geopolitics and art. 

As the Chair of the conference, Professor Saxena noted, “the key idea of ​​the conference is the desire to bring together young scholars from Uzbekistan, providing them space and opportunity to share their current research not only with other students from Uzbekistan, but also world renowned senior academics from both Uzbekistan and Britain, from whom they can obtain valuable advice and establish long term practical contacts”. 

In his greeting speech, Ambassador Akbarov encouraged young researchers from Uzbekistan to make every effort to obtain knowledge in Britain in order to use it to build and contribute to their country’s development. 

The high academic level of the event was proved by the contributions made by two scientific luminaries - Professor Lord Martin Rees and President of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan Professor Salikhov. 

World renowned authority in the field of astrophysics, the former head of the Royal Society, Lord Martin Rees in his speech emphasized “a trend of shifting center of scientific and technological development gravitation from West to East” and highlighted “great prospects and challenges in various fields of research for future scientists”. The British academician outlined the following priority areas which, in his opinion, will be topical for the Uzbek young researchers: 

. By the year 2020 one shall expect the transformation of understanding in how energy resources should be used. Even though there is no complete clarity on the issue of climate change, there are efforts being made in Britain to reduce the possible impact through research development and innovation. For this purpose, serious allocations are being directed to particular researches.

This primarily concerns energy efficiency and the introduction of technologies based on traditional and new sources. Despite doubts about nuclear energy, the importance of nuclear power plants is growing in the UK. There will be a complete transformation of the energy infrastructure and young scientists will have to take a series of steps equivalent to a revolution in the field of telecommunications in recent years to achieve these goals.

Food security
. The increase of global population, welfare growth in developing countries, climate change and other factors make the problem of food supply more acute. Although, currently this problem does not radically affect Uzbekistan, global interdependence and regional stability depends on the stability of food supplies in other countries. There is also a decrease of water resources and in this regard, relevance of research and development in plant and animal genetics, biology, veterinary medicine, technologies for adaptation, etc is growing. 

Space research
. According to Lord Rees, the first phase in space exploration, started from Sputnik in 1950s, Apollo mission to the Moon, and others based on missile technology are almost done, and the future is looking to robotics and unmanned devices, new materials and technologies that will pave the way for practical discoveries in the Solar system. In his view, maintaining the level of research in this and related disciplines in Uzbekistan is very important, and the distinguished astrophysicist has expressed confidence in ability of the Uzbek academic youth to make their own contribution in this direction. 

The report by Professor Salikhov gave an overview of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan, achievements of Uzbek science and state policy to support and develop research in different fields of knowledge. Particular emphasis was put on discussing priorities of Uzbekistan in the development of innovative technologies. In particular, studies in the fields of biotechnology, plant and human genomics, chemistry, alternative energy, materials science, physics, etc. have been noted. The President of the Academy of Sciences called on the British academics for mutually beneficial cooperation with Uzbekistan.

Concerning the Uzbek young scholars, Prof Salikhov said: “I look at the development of science in Uzbekistan with great optimism. By getting acquainted with the research of our young people that study at such prestigious universities as Cambridge, Imperial College, London School of Economics, I felt pride and confidence for the future Uzbek science. This conference has once again demonstrated a well-deserved recognition of the Uzbek science and its future cadres”. The head of the Academy pointed to the personal attention and support of President Islam Karimov for science and innovation, decrees and laws, which were adopted in the early years of independence and now reflected in the Concept of deepening democratic reforms and formation of civil society in the country. 

Professor Ehgamberdiev
made his presentation on the historical heritage of Uzbek science (based on the examples of Al-Beruni, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ulugbek and others), as well as the modern development of astronomy and space exploration in our country. In this case, examples of discoveries and research projects of Uzbek scientists have been compared with the researches of Lord Rees and other international luminaries in the field of astronomy. In addition, Professor Ehgamberdiev noted the work, which is undertaken in Uzbekistan to support young scholars.

In her report, Dr Toderich underlined the issues of preserving and studying the unique natural diversity of Uzbekistan and regions around it. She paid attention to the unique research and development in the study of desert soils, crops, agriculture and sociology. Dr Toderich also highlighted the problems associated with desiccation of the Aral Sea and use of water energy resources in the region.

In the framework of the conference, Ms Umarova made a presentation on the Abu Ali Ibn Sina (Avicenna) International Association of Traditional Medicine, founded in Tashkent in January 2010. She spoke about the activities of the Association, which aim at the revival, preservation and promotion of oriental medicine and development of international cooperation in this field. Each of the conference’s participants also received a video CD with the film about the life of Ibn Sina specially subtitled in English. 

After the presentation, a roundtable discussion on the traditional medicine was held, which gathered prominent researchers and practitioners from the UK. Among them were a Professor Brian Josephson, Nobel laureate from University of Cambridge, Dr Madan Thangavelu, specialist in genetics and oriental medicine, Dr Barbara Potrata, Leeds University and research fellows of the CCAF and others. 

“Traditional medicine is interesting because many of the techniques have not yet found a scientific explanation." According to Prof Josephson, the legacy of such great thinkers as Avicenna and the achievement of oriental medicine in general have not been completely realized in contemporary practice. It is astounding what has been discovered many centuries ago in the East, is yet to be recognized in the West”. 

A discussion on the topic of the East and West was one of the central themes during the Conference. As was noted by the participants, the forum became a meeting of generations, the intersection of Eastern and Western approaches in various fields of science and humanities. Thereafter, senior British academics shared their thoughts, expressed recognition and noted the potential of cooperation between the conference participants. 

According to Professor Peter Nolan of University of Cambridge, who is known for his works on economic development and impact of Eastern countries, science today is at a crossroads just like the entire modern world. Central Asia, at the crossroads between the East and West, has always been at the intersection of ideas and nations around the world. In this connection, he expressed excitement to see the research results of academics and young talents in the region. “Subjects of their research, insight and original approach of their work brought me a very good impression”. 

At the same time, the presentations of young participants were no less vivid. Temur Yunusov, doctoral student at the Cambridge University, who conducts his research in neurobiology and is considered in the British scientific community as one of the most perspective specialists in this field, said that the name “Avicenna” is very symbolic for the conference. “We have a unique opportunity to demonstrate our academic potential and obtain an assessment of the leading academics from the United Kingdom and Uzbekistan, to establish useful contacts and unveil for ourselves the opportunities for further application of our knowledge in practice, whether in the Uzbek Academy of Sciences or among international scientific community. Our communication was so inspiring that we feel ourselves as real followers of Avicenna!” 

As it was highlighted by the chairman of the conference and the CCAF Professor Saxena, modern science of Uzbekistan is actively progressing and equal with any other developed country. International cooperation between Uzbek scientists is well established at the level of individual and institutional contacts. This forum aims to expand this cooperation and to identify potential of young scientists and academics from Uzbekistan. “We are very happy for the success of this project and we hope that this forum will be held on a regular basis”. 

Prof Saxena and Prof Salikhov have separately noted the project of establishing the Tashkent High Technology Park, which is presently being realized in Uzbekistan. As was noted by the head of the Academy of Science of Uzbekistan, “the mere fact that this project involves two of the leading UK and international research centers such as universities of Cambridge and Oxford indicates the level of international interest in academic innovation and cooperation with our country. Therefore, for the young Uzbek scholars who raise their qualification abroad, there is a place where they can put their skills into practice and achieve recognition in the homeland”.

Students from Uzbekistan presented talks on neurobiology, environmental issues, economic concerns including research on stock markets and the global financial crisis, secondary and pedagogical issues in education, historical and modern artefact trade in Uzbekistan, international organizations like EurAsEC and their role in regional cooperation, among others. Some interesting talks from the conference included one given by Temur Yunusov on neurobiology, his research looked into the organisation of a nervous system through looking at flies. Djamshid Rustambekov, who looked into the impact of the financial crisis on the shipping industry, in particular, on long-running contracts. While, Tatyana Shadieva looked into the issues faced by disabled students in higher education in Uzbekistan through the prism of their lived experiences. The talks were followed by interesting discussions among the students which were given direction by Uzbek and British academics who were Chairs of the sessions. As the students presented ongoing research they enjoyed the opportunity to flesh out their ideas and were made aware of problems and possible new directions that their research could take in the future.

The conference organizers have agreed to consider holding this forum on an annual basis.


Chairman of CCAF Prof Saxena
opening the conference
Ambassador Akbarov welcoming participants
Dr Toderich (far left), Prof Ehgamberdiev,
Prof Salikhov and other participants
President of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences
Prof Salikhov
Master of the Trinity College Lord Martin Rees
Chair of the Development Studies Committee
Prof Peter Nolan
PhD researcher Timur Yunusov Ravshan Izamov presenting his work on medicine
Yuliya Timoshkina speaking about Climate Change
Husniddin Ochildiev making presentation
on Corporative finance
Dinara Dultaeva presenting her research
on Nation branding
Nobel laureate in Physics Prof Brian Josephson
Deputy Director of the CPS Ashraf Alikulov Family photo of the Avicenna Conference’s participants


Cambridge, 12-13 March, 2011


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