Chile opens five new Centers of Excellence

A host of research in nanoscience and photonics on such everyday items as plastic containers, CD readers, and other devices is quietly underway in Chile, a country that has placed much emphasis on the importance of on science and technology.

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Small is big for the scientists at CEDENNA, the Universidad de Santiago’s Center for the Development of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. Their mission is to make everyday life just a bit easier for the rest of us. They are now working on a process that will extend the shelf life of packaged foods and increase their market potential by integrating nanoparticles into plastic food containers.

This process not only has practical applications for the food industry, but for pharmacology as well. As physicist Dr. Dora Altbir, the Director CEDENNA, explains, the entire development of this center of excellence takes place on the level of nanometers, or a millionth of a millimeter. To put that into perspective, a human hair is a million nanometers thick.

“One of the center’s objectives is to find practical solutions through the use of applied research that focuses on product development and improvement,” explains Dr. Altbir, who adds that CEDENNA also trains highly qualified professionals.

Ironically, these “trifles” are helping Chile grow. In September the National Commission on Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT) selected CEDENNA and four other scientific projects to create five new centers of excellence for research. Eight other centers began a year ago.

With US$36 million from the Innovation for Competition Fund at their disposition, these centers play a role in Chile’s advances toward building a knowledge-based society. Other areas being promoted include mining technology and photonics.

Development for the 21st Century

While electronics was the science of the 20th century, today many hold that photonics will predominate in the 21st century. The Optics and Photonics Center (CEFOP) in the Bío Bío region certainly agrees. Photonics is the science of generating, controlling, and detecting photons (essential particles that are the basic constituents of light) and is important in CD readers, mobile phone cameras, flat screen TVs, laser printers, surveillance systems, and many other items that are now common in of our daily lives.

CEFOP, which was also declared a center of excellence, began as an initiative of engineers and physicists at the Universidad de Concepción and has developed solutions related to matters of satellite remote sensing, such as the analysis of maritime temperature data, chlorophyll concentration maps (for use in the salmon industry), and forest monitoring, which helped protect against forest fires.

Dr. Rolando Hernández, CEFOP’s Alternate Director and the head of technological development says that the objective of this center of excellence is to “establish links with industry and become a place of encounter for physicists and engineers who work in optics and photonics in Chile.” The initiative also seeks to generate products that lead to greater competitiveness for the country.

Three other three entities will also receive baseline funding. The Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María’s Valparaíso Science and Technology Center works in collaboration with CERN, Switzerland’s European Organization for Nuclear Research, on setting up the largest particle accelerator in the world. The Universidad de Chile’s Mining Technology Center has established its objective for taking its place among the world leaders in the field of applied technology in mining, and the same university is also home to the Complex Engineering Systems Institute (ISCI), which has designed the calendarization of Chile’s professional football (soccer) championship and the efficient distribution of school textbooks and meals for school children.