Nobel Prize winner highlights potential for Chilean astronomy

Australian astrophysicist Brian Schmidt provided advice to the Chilean government on how to propel its astronomy industry to the next level.

World-class Australian astrophysicist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2011 Brian Schmidt championed Chile’s potential to become an international astronomy leader during a visit in late January.

Following his participation in the Second Congress of the Future, a science and technology conference in Santiago, Schmidt met with Chilean president Sebastían Piñera and members of the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Investigation Astronomy (CONICYT) to discuss Chile’s future.

“Today Chile has the opportunity to develop a world-class level of astro-engineering,” Schmidt said. “Until now, Chilean investment has been organic, but its time to make it strategic investment if you hope to become leaders.”

President of CONICYT José Miguel Aguilera agreed with Schmidt’s conclusion.

“Our objective is for astronomy to play a more relevant role domestically both in terms of scientific investigations and for the development of complementary systems and equipment for the large telescopes installed in our country,” he said.

Prior to meeting with President Piñera and members of CONICYT, Schmidt gave a lecture entitled Astronomy’s Potential to become a Motor for Development. Speaking before a combination of Chilean scientists, investigators, and business people, Schmidt detailed the success of astronomy in his own country and offered advice on how to develop the industry in Chile.

“Someone needs to lead this effort in the Chilean scientific community in order to negotiate with international partners and to understand the structure necessary to follow through on projects,” Schmidt suggested. “You’ll need a Center for Innovation in Astronomy for engineers with equipment and facilities dedicated to their efforts.”

Aguilera agreed with the analysis that Schmidt provided.

“We could bring this industry to a head, reinforcing our participation in the economy of knowledge that will bring us on par with players in the big leagues of astronomy,” Aguilera explained.

Chile’s northern Atacama Desert is world-renown among astronomers for its stellar stargazing environment. Almost half of the world’s astronomy infrastructure is currently located in Chile, and over the next decade this percentage is expected to grow to over two thirds.