Skyline of Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires  ©123RF/spectral

Cooperation with Latin America

As is happening throughout the world, in Latin America too scientists are increasingly involved in international exchanges, with diverse new cooperative ventures in view. Already there are many research projects being undertaken jointly with Max Planck institutes and a couple of Max Planck Partner Groups have been established in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and Uruguay. Besides it is planed to build up Tandem Projects in Colombia and Chile.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, there have been some profound transformations taking place in the countries of Latin America. Many governments have set themselves the goal of creating a basis of their own for science, technology and innovation. Nations are beginning to invest more resources in education and research. At the same time, many Max Planck institutes are seeing a steady increase in the number of scientists from Latin America. In 2015, our institutes hosted more than 500 visiting researchers, doctoral students and post-docs from Latin America.

Buenos Aires as the gate to Latin America

In the economically stronger countries of the region in particular there exists today a marked interest in the Max Planck Society, its institutes and its expertise in developing and operating world-leading research institutions. The MPG has already set a pattern in Argentina with the initiation of numerous instruments of successful cooperation, from Partner Groups to the first Partner Institute in Latin America, the CONICET-MPG Partner Institute on Biomedicine Research in Buenos Aires  (IBioBA), and the Max Planck Laboratorium in Rosario (LMPbioR).

Since September 2013, this positive development will be fostered by a Max Planck Society representative office for Latin America, based in Buenos Aires. This office will help nurture and continue to develop relations with partner organisations, research institutes and universities in important countries in the region (follow us on facebook).

Roots of cooperation with Latin America

Scientific cooperation between Max Planck researchers and scientists in the countries of Latin America has developed gradually over the past five decades. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was predominantly the particular geographical, biological and social diversity of the subcontinent that attracted the attention of researchers. For two decades, from 1965 to 1985, military dictatorships dominated the social development of Latin America – caught between inward-looking orientation and foreign debt, there was little room for international scientific cooperation.

It was not until the 1980s with the transition to democracy and the accelerated pace of globalisation that the role of science and technology in the development of the Latin American countries once again became the subject of discussion. Since the beginning of the 21st century, education, research & development and innovation have become important keywords in the political debate about the future of the subcontinent in a globalised world.

Special research conditions       

The countries of Latin America are notable for their particular geographical conditions, unique biological diversity and pronounced cultural variety.

In Amazonia, South America possesses the largest tropical forest area that still exists on earth. As long ago as the 1960s, the then Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Limnology in Plön (today: the MPI for Evolutionary Biology) established a tropical ecology research station in Manaus in cooperation with Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA). Meanwhile, the MPI for Chemistry is now engaged in atmospheric research at the Amazonian Tall Tower Observatory (ATTO) in Manaus, where a 300-metre tall measuring tower has been operating since 2015.

Elsewhere, the high plains and deserts of the Andes are an ideal location for high-powered telescopes that rely on clear skies and dry air. In the 1990s, for example, work began to erect various large telescopes (VLT, VLTBI, etc.) for the ESO on the Cerro Paranal in Chile. The Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX), established in 2003 under the leadership of the MPI for Radio Astronomy on the Chajnantor plain in the Chilean Atacama Desert, was an important technological prototype for the ALMA large telescope, which entered service in 2013.

The APEX telescope in Chile at sundown.

The broad plains of Argentina, too, are particularly well suited for use as a large-scale laboratory, such as for the study of cosmic radiation. One such example is the Pierre Auger Observatory, at which the MPI for Radio Astronomy is one of the participants.

Moreover, the countries of Latin America themselves, with their political and social diversity, present a research subject to which above all the Max Planck institutes dedicated to international and comparative legal studies were quick to address themselves. Their interests are focused on issues like human rights protection, constitutionality, economic integration and the development of criminal law in these countries.

Early encounters with Latin American researchers

The first encounters between Max Planck institutes and researchers in Latin America were somewhat sporadic. In 1976, for example, the Argentinean physicist Dr. Silvia Braslavsky made her way via the US to the then MPI for Radiation Chemistry in Mülheim, where she became a Group Leader. In 1969, Dr. Thomas Jovin became the first Latin American-born scientist to be appointed as Director at a Max Planck institute, in this case the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen.

In 1971, Spanish-born Manuel Cardona was appointed as Founding Director at the MPI for Solid State Research in Stuttgart. From the very beginning Manuel Cardona was a committed supporter of the material sciences not just in his homeland, but particularly also in Latin America.

One of the pioneers in research cooperation with Argentina is Professor Florian Holsboer, Director of the MPI for Psychiatry in Munich. For more than 20 years his Institute has maintained close ties with Argentinean scientists and has played a major role in establishing the CONICET-Max Planck Partner Institute for Biomedical Research in Buenos Aires.

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