Contact: Nitant Kenkre, 277-4846
Michael Padilla, 277-1816

May 30, 2001

UNM Receives Grant to Encourage Collaborations with Latin American Scientists

The Consortium of the Americas for Interdisciplinary Science, a Center of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of New Mexico housed in the Physics Department, has been awarded a grant for $150,000 by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to encourage UNM/LANL collaborations with Latin American scientists.

Vasudev M. (Nitant) Kenkre, UNM professor and director of the consortium, said this is a very exciting initiative sponsored by the vice provost for research, dean of arts and sciences and external sources.

Kenkre said the grant strengthens links between UNM and LANL.

“This grant will have an initial emphasis on Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico,” Kenkre said “It will be used to bring Latin American scientists to New Mexico to spend periods ranging from weeks to almost a year. Two examples are Dr. Guillermo Abramson from Bariloche, Argentina, who is already here and Dr. Gustavo Cruz Pacheco from Mexico City, Mexico, who is expected later in the summer. They both work with UNM and LANL scientists.”

The consortium was established July 1, 2000 to encourage collaborations between Latin America and UNM in interdisciplinary science. The consortium has a strong participation of scientists and administrators from more than 20 Latin American institutions of research and higher learning, and the national laboratories in New Mexico. The focus of research investigations is in three specific directions which are timely and of crucial importance to advances in science and technology: nanoscience, computationally complex systems and novel materials. Kenkre has been instrumental in holding, on behalf of UNM, six workshops in the last year and half, five of them in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile and one for Mexico in Albuquerque. He has travelled extensively in these countries and established numerous conduits for intellectual exchanges between UNM and Latin America. At his invitation about two dozen scientists from Latin America have already spent periods at UNM ranging from weeks to several months collaborating with UNM scientists.

The idea of the consortium is based on three factors. The first has to do with the current and potential factors associated with the focus topics. The field of nanoscience is poised to blossom under a concerted approach by physicists, chemists, mathematicians and biologists, aided by computational scientists and engineers. Some of the research goals are of immediate practical interest as in optical tweezers and nanosize light emitting devices. Others are of a fundamental nature as in tunneling of Bose-Einstein condensates between traps.

The importance of investigations of computationally complex systems has become enormous in contexts ranging from earthquakes and evolution of landscapes to wave propagation in reaction diffusion systems (biological cells) and sintering of powders (aspects of manufacture). New tools are making possible a truly basic understanding (and consequent tailoring) of novel materials on length scales varying from nanoscale through mesoscale to macroscale. Such novel materials include biologically inspired self-assembled materials, magnetic materials with highly controllable properties, and even granular materials (sand) and porous materials (rock).

Required is an interdisciplinary gathering of investigators from a variety of sciences, linked by a common language such as that of physics and/or applied mathematics, to solve basic problems in these three fields. The second factor is the willingness and the suitability of UNM to play host to a collaborative enterprise involving Latin American science. UNM’s willingness is evident from the clear statement of one of the goals in its Strategic Plan: “...to become prominent in our hemisphere as a University of the Americas...” through such collaborative activities. UNM’s suitability stems both from the Latin flavor of the state unique in the entire USA, as well as the state’s unique scientific location as a result of the proximity to Los Alamos and Sandia Laboratories. The third factor is the availability of substantial talent in the chosen three fields of interdisciplinary science in Latin American universities and research institutions.

The initial internal UNM support for the Consortium came from Nasir Ahmed, who recently retired as associate provost for Research. Strong backing for the Consortium was expressed in letters by officials from Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories. The substantial funds made available by LANL have come as a result of interest in the Consortium on the part of Alan Bishop, the director of the Theory Division, Allen Hartford, the director of Science and Technology Base Programs, Thomas Meyer, associate laboratory director for Strategic and Supporting Research, and William Press, principal deputy laboratory director of LANL.

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