Fundamental research

Chilean scientists at the forefront of world science

Despite the fact that the Chilean scientific community is small, researchers from all branches of science have played a leading role in projects that are transcendental for human history.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010  
Chilean scientists at the forefront of world science The experiment is crucial for the world of science

 On Tuesday 30 March, the Twitter account of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), in Switzerland, euphorically announced the result of the largest physics experiment in history: “First time in history!!! World Record!!!” A collision of protons  that a group of scientists from all over the world artificially caused allowed them to recreate a situation similar to the instants following the Big Bang, in that way resolving many questions about the Universe.

 

“This is the point where a new age of discovery begins,” Rolf Heuer, the general director of the scientific institution, told the world press about the machine built over 16 years ago and nicknamed the “God machine.”

 

Chilean scientists participated in this important challenge in a team comprised of researchers from the Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María (UTFSM) and the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (PUC), who took part in the Atlas experiment, the name that was given to one of the four sensors that this great machine uses to collect data, thus providing evidence of the quality of Chilean researchers in experiments that are crucial for the world of science.

 

Ivan Schmidt, an academic at the UTFSM physics department and a participant in the initiative, highlights that the Chilean team’s work is not only experimental, but also theoretical work. “For example, a short while ago we proposed a novel way of observing the so-called Higgs particle, which current theories say should exist, but which has not been discovered. This particle is very important, as it would explain the origin of all particles’ mass,” he comments.

 

The experiment, which will allow other larger-scale experiments to be done in the short term, is very important to the team comprised of people from both academic institutions. “It is a source of great personal satisfaction to have helped with this effort,” Schmidt says. “In addition, our idea is not just to engage in world class science, but also to take advantage of the technology that is derived from these experiments,” he concludes.

 

 

Peach genome and quality of wine

 

The proton collision is not the only initiative that local scientists are contributing to with their research. To avoid the “browning” phenomenon (mealy texture that is produced in fruits like peaches, apples, plums and cherries due to transport conditions), an international consortium of scientific institutions has managed to decode the peach genome.

 

This experiment will not only allow the aforementioned process to be avoided, but it will also improve the quality of fruits and create new varieties around the world.

 

Dr. Lee Meisel, a researcher from the Chilean university Andrés Bello (UNAB) who is involved in the project, says that this initiative “will allow genetic manipulations to be developed to improve aspects of the fruit like its color, aroma and taste, in addition to the texture, which is affected by cold-storage transportation.”

 

The sequence of the peach genome has been available for the international and national scientific community since 1 April on the website http://www.peachgenome.org.

 

Likewise, a group of Chilean researchers from the UTFSM intends to study one of Chile’s most important exports: wine. The project is pioneering in the world (only France is working on similar research) and is aimed at using state-of-the-art technology to determine the quality of wines, identifying grape varieties, origins, and the production year, in addition to detecting potential fraud.

 

This new technology will allow the global wine industry to leave one of its big problems behind it, as the sector currently uses the organoleptic system to determine the quality of its products.

 

The young Chilean who works for the NASA

 

Chilean universities are not the only ones to stand out in world-class science. A young 19-year-old Chilean student at the University of Texas in Brownsville (UTB), Mauricio Flores, has managed something unimaginable: a scholarship to work at the NASA’s,Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, where the largest radio telescope in the world is located.

 

Though this is ostensibly a benefit that is exclusively for US students, Flores’s academic excellence was enough to make a first exception. This makes him the first Latin American to join the ARCC (Arecibo Remote Command Center).

 

“Joining the ARCC will give me a very big advantage in terms of my studies, as it allows me to obtain knowledge and experience that many students do not get until their postgraduate studies, if they are lucky,” says Mauricio, who is currently studying physics at the UTB thanks to an athletic scholarship for his other great passion, chess, which he obtained after coming in first place in the South American championship that was held in Argentina that same year.

 

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