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Dual-nationality mathematics

The Centro de Modelamiento Matematico (CMM), a Franco-Chilean laboratory in Santiago, was set up in 2000 by the University of Chile,1 the Chilean Ministry of National Education and CNRS. We met with its Director, Rafael Correa.

Rafael Correa

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Rafael Correa, director of the Centro de Modelamiento Matematico (CMM), a Franco-Chilean laboratory in Santiago

Like a great many international collaborations, this one has its roots in an encounter that happened years ago, 34 to be precise, when the mathematician was a young engineer and had his first introduction to French mathematics and an exceptional instructor.

Why did you choose to do your doctorate in mathematics in France?
Rafael Correa: France was among the first countries that came to mind for an international collaboration in mathematics, along with the former Soviet Union and the United States. Since the nineteenth century, France has had a great scientific influence on our university and exchanges were maintained during the long years of dictatorship in Chile, between 1973 and 1989. After three years of doctoral work, I went back to my country to pass on what I had learned. I became a professor, and took part in setting up research groups in the engineering school at the University of Chile, famous throughout Latin America. At that time, in the 1970s, applied mathematics was practically nonexistent in Chile. Thanks to my training in France, I became one of its pioneers. I kept up privileged relationships with French mathematicians: Jacques-Louis Lions presided over the first CMM International Scientific Council,2 and today, Ivar Ekeland holds this role.3

The CMM was founded 30 years after your first encounter with French mathematicians. What were the circumstances?
RC: The Chilean government has been actively developing its research policy for the last 10 years. The budget allocated to research is constantly growing: Conicyt's funding is scheduled to increase from 0.6% of the GDP in 2000 to 1.2% in 2005.4 Priority research centers, called “Centers of Excellence,” were set up five years ago, in applied mathematics among other fields.5 The founding of CMM was a response to Chile's economic priorities, as the world's top copper producer and large exporter of wood. At the same time, at the end of the 1990s, CNRS started pursuing an active international policy. The CMM was therefore created to address very concrete problems in telecommunications, energy, mining, forestry, and transport, by creating new mathematics and fundamental research in order to develop models for them.

Is mathematics, as researchers' “natural” language, not sufficient then for CMM's ambitions?
CMM scientists—about fifty researchers in all—are specialists in probability, differential equations, optimization, and discrete mathematics. According to the various applications, they are joined by agronomists, electricians and mechanics, as well as biologists, doctors, physicists, and chemists. They also work with industrialists, like CODELCO Chile, the leading copper producer in the world, to carry out research on metallurgy, the bio-mining industry, and the geophysical instability of subterranean mines.

The CMM is not only multidisciplinary but covers many themes. It oversees more than 10 large-scale projects...
In the field of environmental studies, we are modeling the atmosphere and its pollution markers. We are also studying the structure of pine forests and how they fare when attacked by parasites. In the field of health, we are working on mathematical tools for medical diagnosis and surgical procedures. We recently launched an important genomics program. Other research revolves around the optimization of electrical energy generation and transmission systems, particularly networks of small distributed generators. We are also involved in three other fields: urban public transportation, cryptography and computing security as well as educational programs for teaching mathematical modeling.

Dual nationality, varied and ambitious research projects, 350 publications in international mathematics journals in five years—with such accomplishments, what's next on the agenda for the CMM?
RC: We want to consolidate the laboratory's influence and impact in Chile and Latin America and strengthen our scientific and industrial relationships, especially in France and Europe. CMM is participating in the creation of an international network of mathematics centers as well. We would also like to host more foreign senior researchers for longer exchange periods, as we already do with the Marcel Dassault chair.

Interview by Magali Sarazin

Notes :

1. The University of Chile represents 50% of the country's scientific production:
2. Jacques-Louis Lions (1928-2001) was an internationally renowned French mathematician, and president of the International Mathematical Union.
3. Ivar Ekeland is a professor of mathematics and economy at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver (Canada). He was president of the University of Paris-Dauphine (France) for five years. He has won numerous prizes (Jean Rostand, d'Alembert, the Grand Prix of the Académie Royale des Sciences de Belgique, Belgium, etc.).
4. CONICYT, Comisión Nacional de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica de Chile.
5. Since 2000, seven “Centers of Excellence” have been financed by the Fondap program (Chilean research priority fund) in applied mathematics, cellular regulation and pathology, materials sciences, astronomy, ecology and biodiversity, oceanography, and cell molecular studies.

Contacts :

Rafael Correa
Director of the CMM, Santiago, Chile


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