Opening Remarks of Prof. Luis Salinas

in Uncategorized
January 4th, 2013

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you, also on behalf of the Rector of this University Professor José Rodríguez, to the PASI 2013 Advanced School about “The science of predicting and understanding tsunamis, storm surges and tidal phenomena”. Professor Rodríguez couldn’t come to this opening ceremony, as he had wished, and sends a warm and special greeting to all participants.

I think it is important to pay attention to the acronym PASI, which stands for Pan-American Advanced Studies Institute. This acronym conveys very well one of the basic ideas of these meetings: international cooperation, which for obvious reasons is most important in all fields of sciences but especially in the domain of the sciences dealing with earthquakes and tsunamis.

It is a pleasure for me to thank Professor Lorena Barba and her crew at Boston University and at this university as well, for the organization of this PASI school. Her already legendary energy was instrumental for this meeting to become possible. It is also a pleasure to thank the institutions and organizations which have made possible this conference:

  • the National Science Foundation of USA,
  • the Office of Naval Research of USA,
  • the Chilean Navy,
  • the Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service of the Chilean Navy,
  • CONICYT, which is the Chilean Science Foundation,
  • the National Laboratory for High-Performance Computing,
  • the Scientific and Technological Center of Valparaíso,
  • the Technical University Federico Santa María, USM.

This is the second PASI School on a related subject at this university. The first one, PASI 2011, took place exactly two years ago and its central subject at that time was “Scientific Computing in the Americas: the challenge of massive parallelism”, which is closely related to the main subject of PASI 2013.

Some of our guests today were also active participants in PASI 2011, so they already know the history of USM. But for some of our guests today, this is their first time at USM and probably their first time in South America.

Please let me tell you a few facts about USM. This is a small but complex university, devoted entirely to science and engineering. It is a private university, and one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in Chile in those fields of knowledge. It owes its existence to the vision of the Chilean entrepreneur Federico Santa María, who made a huge fortune trading in sugar in France in the last decades of the nineteenth century. He died in Paris in 1920 and having no descendants, he donated his fortune to the city of Valparaíso with the specific purpose of developing a School of Arts and Crafts and a School of Engineers. Teaching and research activities started in 1931. In his will, Santa María stated that the first generations of Teachers, Researchers and Professors should come from Europe, especially from Germany. His will also contained a clause to the effect that in case this project could not be developed in Valparaíso, all his fortune should be donated to charity institutions in the United States of America, a nation he greatly admired.

In the first decades, efforts were concentrated on some branches of Engineering, including Mechanical, Chemical, Civil and Electrical Engineering. Very rapidly the newly created institution grew as one of the strongest Engineering schools in the country and Latin America as well.

Although a private university, USM was also supported (and still is) by the Chilean state. But times were changing very rapidly. The 1970s was a period of changes for the whole of Chilean society and in particular for Chilean universities. Things had simply to change and adapt to the modern times. Around 1970, USM opened the university to a much larger number of students while remaining focused in Engineering and Sciences. The major character of the institution was, nevertheless, preserved as much as possible.

Through the years, USM has grown to a medium-size, fully accredited university with around 14,000 students in 6 campuses in 5 major cities in central Chile: Valparaíso (main campus), Viña del Mar, Santiago (2 campuses), Concepción and Rancagua. Around 100 foreign students come every year to study at USM; they come from different countries including Germany, France, Sweden, USA, and others. Almost all academic departments have M.Sc. programs besides the Engineering degrees. In addition, there are 5 Ph.D. programs in: Physics, Electronics, Computer Science and Informatics, Chemistry, and Biotechnology.

Recently the SCImago Research Group distinguished USM as the university of highest normalized impact in Latin America, in particular in the fields of Physics and Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

Now let me say a few words about the main subject of our meeting. Chile is indeed a beautiful country, but with a long and sad history of earthquakes and tsunamis. The country is used to shaking ground. In the past two years it has experienced more than 40 earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 or higher.

On February 27, 2010, an 8.8 (moment magnitude scale) earthquake occurred off the coast of central Chile, from Valparaíso (this city!) in the north to the Araucanía region in the south, lasting about three minutes. It was one of the ten largest earthquakes ever recorded. Tremors were felt in Argentina in cities as far as Buenos Aires, and in the south of Perú as well.

The earthquake triggered a tsunami that devastated several coastal towns in central Chile. The earthquake killed 525 people and inflicted $30 billion US dollars in damage.

Thus, in this country we have no excuse: we simply must learn to understand earthquakes and tsunamis. Following the great mathematician David Hilbert (Königsberg, September 8th 1930) allow me to say that: “We must know, and we will know”. This is utterly important for this country, for this university, for engineering and especially for our Civil Engineering Faculty.

Therefore, a PASI School about “The science of predicting and understanding tsunamis, storm surges and tidal phenomena” is most welcome not only for this university but for the whole country as well.

Once again I welcome you to PASI 2013 and wish you an interesting and stimulating conference.
Thank you.