The Chilean Academy of Sciences

Founded in 1964

The Chilean Academy of Sciences was created during the administration of President Jorge Alessandri when the Minister of Education, Alejandro Garretón Silva, presented a bill to the National Congress. It was founded together with other three academies as part of the Institute of Chile by a Government Law on 22 October 1964. The stated aim of the Chilean Academy of Sciences was "To promote at a higher level the cultivation of mathematical and natural sciences." The four academies were to be independent organisations with no teaching commitments. Although the bill setting up the academies was widely supported, it did lack details on how they would be funded. The bill specified that the first five members of the Chilean Academy of Sciences would consist of two people appointed by the President of the Republic, two by the Council of Rectors and one by the University of Chile. The total number of members of the Academy was limited to 18. The first meeting of the Academy was on 9 March 1965 in the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Chile.

The physicist Gustavo Lira (1887-1980) was elected as the first president of the Chilean Academy of Sciences. Lira had been director of the School of Engineering and Sciences of the University of Chile and served two terms as Dean of the Faculty of Physical and Mathematical Sciences and one as rector of the University. He also held government positions such as Minister of Public Works, Trade and Communications and was Minister of Public Education in Alessandri's government. The first secretary of the Academy was the biologist Gustavo Hoecker (1915-2008), a professor in the Faculty of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences of the University of Chile.

The Mission of the Academy was published on 14 April 1965:
(i) To sponsor and support pure or applied scientific research;

(ii) To disseminate scientific knowledge through conferences and forums, the publication of books, brochures or journals and the formation of a library specialising in science;

(iii) To create prizes and incentives for scientific research and publications, to sponsor the meeting of congresses of this nature;

(iv) To sponsor the sending abroad of teachers, researchers and professionals for the purpose of study and improvement, and to create scholarships for these purposes;

(v) To collect information on general progress and research in the sciences, for the application of these to the country's problems, and their dissemination through secondary and higher education.
The first woman member of the Chilean Academy of Sciences was Adelina Gutiérrez who was elected a member in 1967. She was introduced by Carlos Mori (1904-1985), one of the original five members of the Academy who had become its President in September 1967. Mori was a civil engineer who had been elected for three terms as Dean of the Faculty of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. He said:

It is an honour for this Academy to be the first to incorporate a lady into its list of members, because all of us recognise in the female sex the same intellectual qualities and human conditions that were attributed for a long time, in my opinion with a false sense of superiority, only to men.

Adelina Gutiérrez had studied Mathematics and Physics at the Pedagogical Institute of the University of Chile. She developed a deep interest in the study of Astronomy that led her to develop her research career at the Astronomical Observatory of the University of Chile. Between 1960 and 1961, she had undertaken postgraduate studies at the University of Indiana, USA, being the first Chilean woman to obtain a doctorate in astronomy in June 1964. Later, she continued to carry out excellent work in teaching and university scientific research. In 1974 she was elected as Secretary of the Academy of Sciences. The first woman President of the Academy was Maria Teresa Ruiz Gonzalez elected in 2016.

Today the Chilean Academy of Sciences supports young scientists, especially young women researchers:
(a) it awards yearly two prizes for the best PhD thesis, in natural and exact sciences, respectively;

(b) it awards two prizes per year to outstanding women up to 40 years of age, in natural and exact sciences respectively;

(c) it elects 15 young outstanding scientists for 3-year periods to form part of a group called Frontiers Science.
The greatest problem for the Chilean Academy of Sciences in its early years was not having a building of its own. It held meetings, mostly in the University of Chile, but although efforts were made to purchase accommodation for the Institute of Chile to house all the academies, only in 1971 did this prove possible. The Chilean Academy of Sciences moved into the building in August 1972 but there were still problems with a possible lawsuit over the debt acquired in the purchase. This was settled in October 1973 with a extraordinary contribution by the Government. This, however, did not end the problems since the Institute of Chile did not have sufficient funds to adequately furnish its the new headquarters and for some time the Chilean Academy of Sciences had to carry out its work in unsatisfactory conditions.

Underfunding led to other problems such as the inability of the Chilean Academy of Sciences to publish as much material in its Bulletin as it wanted. Only in the 1980s did budgetary problems ease.

In 1973 there was a military coup in Chile that ended the government of President Salvador Allende. A military junta, supported by the United States President Richard Nixon, took over, ended all political activity and repressed all left-wing movements. By 1974 Augusto Pinochet became president and ruled until 1990. In the years after the coup the Academy had to face various situations that, according to its assessment, deeply affected the national scientific endeavour. It had to assume a role that, in addition to promoting science, as had been its main objective, tried to safeguarded the possibility of doing science in the country. This was increasingly difficult given the political situation which, over the following years, introduced reforms that the Academy saw as unhelpful. Many scientists were forced to leave their position in universities and the Academy made its objections known to university authorities, through the press and to the government.

Over the next years the Academy made strenuous efforts to influence the government to adopt an education system which would provide positive benefits to the country. One positive result of this influence was the setting up of the National Fund for Technological Development in October 1981.

The 1980s saw the Chilean Academy of Sciences establish relationships, agreements and exchanges with Scientific Societies in Europe, North America and Asia; as well as with international organisations such as UNESCO.

Today the Academy has at most 36 members and is an autonomous body made up of scientists of the highest level in the country.

The article [3] ends as follows:-
... more recently, the Academy and its board, chaired by Dr Juan Asenjo, have fostered the issue of the Knowledge and Innovation Society, given that scientific and technological development must be accompanied, among other factors, with greater public and private investment as well as an institutional framework that enhances it, a point that expresses a long-standing desire of the Academy and other national scientific entities, to have a Ministry of Science and Technology. For this reason, in order to make these needs public, two works were published in 2013: 'Una Integración real de Chile a la Sociedad del Conocimiento'; and 'Innovación basada en Conocimiento Científico'.
These publications, the projects, awards and countless other initiatives, as well as the entire trajectory of the Academy since its creation, 50 years ago, show that the objective with which this corporation was founded has marked its work, as well as that of all its members and directors. With a lot of effort and in a precarious environment during its first years, the constant work of all its members has allowed the Academy to be inserted as a preponderant actor in the national and international scientific sphere, and to validate its opinion and contribution before the different levels of the society in matters of science, technology and innovation.

1965-1967 Gustavo Lira Manso

1968-1970 Carlos Mori Gana

1971-1973 Carlos Mori Gana

1974-1976 Osvaldo Cory Moulley

1977-1979 Jorge Mardones Restat

1980-1983 Igor Saavedra Gatica

1984-1986 Igor Saavedra Gatica

1987-1989 Luis Vargas Fernandez

1990-1991 Presidente del Instituto de Chile

1992-1994 Jorge E Allende Rivera

1995-1997 Enrique Tirapegui Zurbano

1998-2000 Enrique Tirapegui Zurbano

2001-2003 Francisco Rothhammer Engel

2004-2006 Servet Martinez Aguilera

2007-2009 Presidente del Instituto de Chile

2010-2012 Juan A Asenjo

2013-2015 Juan A Asenjo

2016-2018 Maria Teresa Ruiz Gonzalez

2019-2021 Maria Cecilia Hidalgo Tapia

2022-2024 Maria Cecilia Hidalgo Tapia

References (show)

  1. InterAcademyPartnership.
  2. IYBSSD.
  3. Academia Chilena de Ciencias: 50 años de promoviendo el desarrollo científico nacional, Academia Chilena de Ciencias, Instituto de Chile (March 2019).

Last Updated November 2022