Dr. Subra Suresh, president of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the United States, visited Chile for the first time last week to honor more than 50 years of scientific cooperation between Chile and the U.S.
Chile is “a strategic partner for scientific collaboration” in a number of areas, Dr. Suresh said, pointing to Chile’s long history of supporting research in astronomy, oceanography, seismology and more.
Scientific research inspires and educates people, he added, and on his trip to Chile Dr. Suresh said he was “heartened” to see Chileans fueling their passion for science, engineering and innovation.
“One thing that impresses me is not only the aspiration of the country at the government level but also at the individual level and the scientist level, and I think it’s really exciting to see the optimism and the possibilities for the future.”
The NSF funds science research around the world, and its president highlighted Chile’s distinct “geographic qualities” to explain the nation’s ongoing success as an international research destination, especially in the field of astronomy.
In a few years, according to Dr. Suresh, “Chile will host about 70 percent of all observations in astronomy.” This, thanks to “the ability to observe the skies, the planets, the stars, the dry weather conditions, the mountains, and the collaborations that have evolved” in the northern Atacama desert, home to the clearest skies in the world.
And astronomy observations go well beyond the stars. “Demands of astronomy will drive innovations in computer science, networking, mathematics, and other branches of sciences, physics,” Dr. Suresh said.
But Chile’s broad scientific offerings don’t end with astronomy, said Dr. Suresh’s Chilean counterpart, Dr. José Miguel Aguilera, president of Chile’s National Commission for Scientific and Technological Innovation (CONICYT).
Chile is also home to the world’s driest deserts, conducive for preparing astronauts for life on other planets; dozens of historically active volcanoes, ideal for studying seismic technology; and Monte Verde, quite possibly the oldest human settlement in the Americas, dating back nearly 15,000 years.
Dr. Aguilera and Dr. Suresh agree that education is one of the key ways Chile can continue to increase its presence in the international science community. BecasChile, a government-funded scholarship program, currently sends some 6,000 Chilean students abroad to study, including 1,500 doctoral students, Dr. Aguilera siad.
“This kind of two-way interaction is very beneficial. I think in the future as Chile invests more in educational enterprise and research enterprise, these interactions will increase,” Dr. Suresh said.
Dr. Suresh’s visit follows several big-name announcements for scientific collaboration between Chile and prestigious universities and institutions in the U.S. and Europe in recent months.
In mid-December Chile formed a historic research alliance with Massachusetts to support new relationships between leading scientists and think tanks in both countries.
At the end of 2011, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s M.I.T.-Chile Seed Fund chose 21 projects proposed by Chileans for nearly US$1 million in funding.
This month, the European Southern Observatory, which already operates some of the world’s most sophisticated telescopes based out of northern Chile, will break ground on the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), set to become the world’s largest telescope at an estimated cost of US$1.5 billion.