The first TWAS event to be held outside its headquarters city of Trieste, Italy, took place in Beijing in 1987. That marked the first time in modern history that China had opened its doors to the rest of the world. Participants were able to see first-hand China's ongoing efforts to build scientific strength and apply that strength to economic development. In 2008, Nature magazine cited this event "as one of the meetings that changed the world" – a seminal event in 20th century science with impact comparable to the meetings that led to the creation of the high energy physics facility at CERN, the "green revolution" and the human genome project.
The TWAS meeting in China set the framework for all the meetings that have followed. Venues for the events have included Argentina (2013), Austria (2015), Brazil (1997 and 2006), China (1987, 2003 and 2012), Egypt (2005), India (2002 and 2010), Iran (2000), Kuwait (1992), Mexico (2008), Nigeria (1995), Oman (2014), Senegal (1999), South Africa (2009) and Venezuela (1990). Periodically, the meeting returns to its roots in Trieste, a centre of international science and higher education in northeastern Italy. The 2018 meeting was in fact held in Trieste.
Each conference is designed to survey research successes and powerful ideas that shape science in the South. A leading public official, often the president or prime minister from the host country, delivers the opening address. Ministerial sessions, devoted to critical scientific issues, are usually held on the first day. Scientific sessions, focusing on topics ranging from agriculture to biotechnology to materials science, are held throughout the conference. In each conference, one session focuses on the state of science in the host country. Young scientists are given an opportunity to discuss their research, and a series of prizes and medals acknowledge the excellent work being done by scientists in developing countries.
TWAS has been called the voice of science for the South. The Academy's general meetings and conferences provide an ideal forum for TWAS to articulate its purpose and goals by showcasing the dramatic scientific progress being made in the South and exploring strategies for meeting the world's greatest challenges.