Union Radio-Scientifique Internationale / International Union of Radio Science
Young Scientists

Young Scientists



The Young Scientist Awards are presented at the General Assemblies of URSI and at the URSI Atlantic Radio Science Conferences (AT-RASC) to recognize an international group of individuals who have made innovative contributions and discoveries in multidiscipline research related to electromagnetic fields and waves.
The General Assemblies of URSI and the URSI Atlantic Radio Science Conferences (AT-RASC) are both held every three years (interleaved with each other) to review current research trends, present new discoveries and make plans for future research and special projects in all areas of radio science, especially where international cooperation is desirable.



In the International Council for Science (ICSU) URSI has two significant distinctions. Among the 26 international "single discipline " scientific unions it is one of the very few multidisciplinary unions. This happened because URSI was one of four original international scientific unions forming in 1919 the International Research Council, the predecessor of ICSU. A second distinction is its young scientist program. It is the largest within ICSU and URSI is frequently held up as a good example to the other unions in this regard. How did this come about?

Professor Sam Silver, URSI president from 1966 to 1969, introduced the young scientist program. At an URSI board meeting in February 1967 he proposed "each national committee nominate one or two young research workers in their countries who should be specially invited by the president of URSI to attend the general assembly. This would be a tremendous encouragement for young people and would stimulate their interest and participation in the work of the union. Moreover this should contribute to bringing fresh talent to the general assembly." He also proposed a special fund to facilitate the participation of young scientists at URSI general assemblies.

To appreciate the significance of this proposal it is necessary to recall that URSI general assemblies were much smaller than now and were closed to all but a limited number of official delegates invited by the member committees. These were mainly internationally established scientists and research administrators. This gave the general assemblies considerable mystique for younger scientists who were excluded. The first general assembly I "attended " was at University College, London in 1960, when I was finishing my Ph.D. Other graduate students and I slipped into the darkened lecture hall to see and hear the famous senior colleagues whose papers we had been studying. I similarly "attended" my second URSI general assembly in Ottawa in 1969, along with other uninvited colleagues from Ottawa laboratories concerned with radio science.

In his 1969 presidential address Prof. Silver recognised that it was "important to the union to bring to its assembly the fresh ideas and the idealism of young people. For if the union has no ear for the aspirations and interests of the younger scientists, it will ossify out of complacency and by crystallisation of patterns of thought." It was also important to help advance science and technology in developing countries. This was explicitly the duty of UNESCO, but the unions of ICSU should both participate and provide support. Prof. Silver pointed out that "bringing the young scientists to the assembly is a way for the URSI to contribute to this program of the service of science to humanity." In a Dec. 1971 URSI Bulletin article Prof. Silver indicated that as far as he was concerned, this consideration was the main motivation for the young scientists scheme at Ottawa. The scheme also helped initiate major changes in the nature of URSI general assemblies, which only later became open to all who wished to attend.

Eighteen young scientists designated by thirteen member committees from smaller and developing countries were supported by travel grants totalling $10,000 from URSI funds at the 1969 Ottawa general assembly. Also member committees were asked to include in their delegations some research workers of age 25-35 years. These came supported by their countries or on research grants. The success of the 1969 young scientists scheme prompted the URSI board to repeat it at the Warsaw general assembly in 1972 with grants totalling $11,000 for 14 young scientists from the following member countries: Australia (4), Brazil (2), India (2), Nigeria (3), South Africa (1), Sweden (1) and USA (1); that is about half from developing countries and half from industrialised countries. This balance was intended to encourage collaboration among young scientists from different backgrounds and was maintained at later general assemblies.

At the general assemblies in Lima (1975) and Helsinki (1978) there were no young scientist programs. The reasons for this are not recorded explicitly in the general assembly proceedings for these years but evidently financial and organisational changes in URSI severely limited the resources available for the program. Also by then general assemblies were open to all radioscientists regardless of whether they were invited delegates or even from member nations, so growing numbers of both young and older scientists were attending in any case.