It is all too often easy to dwell on what is happening immediately around us. In the case of publications such as this one, other journals and magazines, as well as scientific societies and the like, this can mean a bias towards research and researchers in the US, Europe, and Japan. A letter from a new reader in China reminded me that the world is a much bigger place.

“Your broad scope of contents…serves not only the researchers from the traditional materials science and engineering departments, but also the researchers from the physics, chemistry, biology, and other engineering fields. The cooperation between these scientists is necessary for the future development of materials and a recent example is nanoscience and technology. Most importantly, as your magazine is free of charge, it can also serve those scientists who cannot afford it personally or who are from the countries with currency exchange restrictions.”

Chenxu Zhao makes a good point. This may be the information age, but there is a price to pay — literally. Conducting research is an expensive business and it can be very difficult for scientists in the developing world to get the funding they need. Access to journals and other publications is merely one of many problems. Publishers have a role to play here. Take for example the World Health Organization (WHO) initiative that allows universities, research centers, and teaching hospitals in low-income countries significantly reduced rates or free online access to 1000 journals published by Elsevier, Blackwell, Wolters Kluwer, Springer Verlag, and John Wiley ( Elsevier also provides free access to math and physics journals for students in 15 African nations.

Is there more that scientists themselves can do? Harold Vamus, of the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, thinks so. In his talk for the 2nd Annual Arnold J. Schwartz Memorial Health Lecture at New York University’s Wagner School for Public Service on 28 February, Vamus outlined his vision for a Science Peace Corps. In his quest to ‘globalize biomedical science’, Vamus makes three suggestions to tackle the public health challenges faced by the developing world. ? The establishment of a Science Peace Corps consisting of recent graduates and senior scientists who would be posted to developing nations to build up a local science and medical research capacity. ? The dissemination of published scientific research and medical knowledge via the internet for free. ? Adoption of World Health Organisation recommendations, which include investment in public health systems. Not only does Vamus (and WHO) envision these measures to improve public health as an end in itself, they should also provide a means to economic development and prosperity.

The emphasis of Vamus’ proposals is on public health — and materials science and engineering has a crucial role in realizing his aims. The National Science Foundation also goes some way to recognize and meet these needs with its efforts to establish a global materials science network (see p. 17 of this issue for further details). As an example of what research can do, efforts are being directed towards creating cheap, low power lighting systems, using the latest light-emitting diodes, which are affordable and workable for small rural communities. And an engineer has used the refractive properties of water to create adjustable — and cheap — lenses for glasses. Little things can make a big difference — a concept that all scientists are aware of! — and what better way to make a difference than to contribute towards the overall and scientific development of other nations?

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(02)05501-3