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Argentinian Scientist Uses TV Game Show Winnings to Finance Research

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Argentina is facing an economic crisis. Government critics have been protesting cuts in spending for scientific research. But those cuts do not mean the country's research projects have come to a halt.

In fact, one scientist has found an interesting way to raise money: winning money on a television game show.

Marina Simian is a biologist for Argentina's National Scientific and Technical Research Council. Last week, she competed on the local version of the TV program "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."

On the show, people answer questions of general knowledge for a chance to win money. As contestants answer questions correctly, the amount of money they win increases. The questions also become more difficult.

"Who Wants to be a Millionaire" first appeared on television in Britain in 1998. Since then, different versions of it have been broadcast in over 100 other countries.

During her appearance on the show, Marina Simian said she needed the prize money to support her cancer research. Simian is the head of a laboratory researching treatments for breast cancer and other forms of the disease. She was able to answer enough questions correctly on the show to win 500,000 pesos, or $11,000, to pay for laboratory supplies.

"I am not a hero. I used a strategy that was a bit creative or different to get financing for my work group," Simian said. She spoke to a reporter at the National University of San Martín in Buenos Aires.

Marina Simian, a medical researcher, poses for a picture with members of her team May 9, 2019. (REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian)
Marina Simian, a medical researcher, poses for a picture with members of her team May 9, 2019. (REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian)

In recent years, government support for science research has become less secure in recession-hit Argentina. The value of the Argentinian peso continues to drop against the value of money of other countries. The weaker exchange rate has also weakened people's spending power. This is especially true when it comes to buying equipment internationally in United States dollars.

It is common for researchers to buy equipment from other countries, using U.S. dollars, because more equipment is available for purchase that way, at lower costs.

Jorge Aguado is a high-level science and technology official for Argentina's government. He told the Reuters news agency that research budgets have increased since President Mauricio Macri took office in 2015. But he admitted the nation's economic troubles have caused delays in releasing money for research.

Aguado added that fewer Argentine scientists were returning to the country after doing research overseas. Just 41 returned last year, down from 90 in 2013.

Argentina has three Nobel Prize winners for science, but researchers have long expressed concerns over a lack of resources.

Delays in financial support are why Simian decided to compete on the game show as the nation watched on live television.

She heads a laboratory where she and other researchers study resistance against cancer medications. The project received financial support in 2017. But Simian said the money has been coming in small amounts, and last year she only received half of what was expected.

Simian discussed the problems she faces during her appearance on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." She said she hopes her appearance will bring more attention to the work researchers are doing.

"I cannot believe the impact this has had. I hope it will help us talk about what is happening in science and technology. In the end, that is what matters to us scientists," Simian told the Reuters news agency.

"We love what we do. We do it with great effort, but we need the minimum conditions to work. If there are no changes in the economic direction for science, I see it becoming very complex."

I'm Jill Robbins.

Miguel Lo Bianco and Cassandra Garrison reported on this story for the Reuters news service. Pete Musto adapted their report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

We want to hear from you. How important is it that scientists have dependable financial support for their work? Write to us in the Comments Section.

Words in This Story

strategyn. a careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal usually over a long period of time

creativeadj. having or showing an ability to make new things or think of new ideas

impactn. a powerful or major influence or effect

minimumadj. least or lowest possible in amount or degree

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