As an emerging nation, Chile has to make some big-scale decisions about how to successfully research, develop, and apply nanotechnology. To help it come up with a sound game plan, the Chilean government invited key players in research, business, and government to a workshop in Santiago on April 16-18, 2008.
Among the lineup of distinguished advisors from the U.S., Europe, and South America was Alfonso Ortega, Ph.D., the College of Engineering’s Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research and the James R. Birle Professor of Energy Technology. Dr. Ortega and the other international advisory panel members drew upon their expertise and experiences to provide a global viewpoint and to share insights into strategies that work—and those that do not.
The workshop fostered an honest exchange of ideas and critiques among representatives from Chilean federal agencies, which fund the research; universities, which do the research; and entrepreneurs, who convert the research into real products. As a former program director at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Washington, DC, and the onetime coordinator of the NSF's Active Nanostructures and Nanosystems (ANN) Program, Dr. Ortega was well positioned to present the U.S. perspective on the direction of nanotech research.
The workshop was the final in a series of three such symposia. Dr. Ortega also served as an external advisor at the first workshop in September 2006. In his opinion, the workshops yielded significant outcomes. First, the panel “challenged engineers and scientists to use this workshop as a rallying cry to get organized and to propose a national nanotech plan,” Dr. Ortega said. In addition, the panel recommended that Chile, since it has a small economy, invest its money in nanotechnology that will "impact areas of national priority," such as agriculture and aquabusiness.
Finally, the panel recommended that, under any circumstances, Chile be involved in nanoscience and engineering research and education so that its students—and its population in general—can be exposed to the latest trends and findings in one of the most important emerging areas of scientific discovery and technological innovation.
A result of Dr. Ortega's participation in the workshops was the establishment of a strong working relationship between Villanova and Universidad de Santiago de Chile (USACH). Because of this rapport, two Chilean students recently entered the College of Engineering's Ph.D. program. Dr. Ortega's goal is to establish a formal cooperative agreement between Villanova and USACH to facilitate scholarly exchange involving study-abroad opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, faculty exchange, and collaborative research.