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Leiden strengthens ties with Latin America and Caribbean

On 15 May, the ambassadors of 11 Latin American and Caribbean countries were shown the highlights of research at Leiden University Faculty of Science. Furthermore, Prince Carlos de Bourbon de Parme awarded prizes to two young academics who conduct research in Latin America.

From exoplanets to tree lines

Using immense telescopes in Chile to find exoplanets, measuring how tree lines are moving in Patagonia and interpreting archaeological finds on the Caribbean islands. The region of Latin America and the Caribbean is important to research in Leiden and this is what vice-rector Hester Bijl emphasised in her welcome to the guests. The University’s Latin America and the Caribbean regional group had staged this the third such meeting to put Leiden’s name on the map. The Executive Board has chosen Latin America and the Caribbean – alongside China and Indonesia – as a ‘focus region’ for internationalisation. Besides ambassadors, representatives of the countries that make up the Kingdom of the Netherlands were invited, including the Minister Plenipotentiary of Curaçao.

The ambassadors at the Faculty of Science. The guests were introduced to researchers from other faculties who conduct research in this part of the world. They included archaeologists and anthropologists.

Fighting cancer and Parkinson’s

The international visitors were given a tour of the brand-new laboratory at the Faculty of Science. The new building makes it easy for researchers from different disciplines to work together and share equipment. Professor of Immunobiology Annemarie Meijer showed the ambassadors of countries such as Bolivia, Colombia and Curaçao the Cell Observatory. This lab makes it possible to conduct important research into diseases such as cancer and Parkinson’s.

A visitor at the brand new facilities in the new building of the Faculty of Science

Tracking down disease with an electron microscope

The ambassadors also saw one of the most important acquisitions in recent years: the latest electron microscope. This powerful nanoscope can be used to track down defects in cells that can cause cardiovascular disease and cancer. In addition, Professor of Computer Science Fons Verbeek showed them how researchers from Leiden convert NASA data into visual images. This makes it easier to see where exoplanets are found. Mexican PhD candidate Carlos Pablo Siguenza Sanches explained the research of various Latin American researchers in Leiden, including a study of biodiversity in South America and a study of the effect of mining on lakes in Chile.

Chilean ambassador Maria Teresa Infante.

Research that benefits society

The Chilean ambassador Maria Teresa Infante emphasised how scientific research is not only relevant to other scientists. In Chile thousands of astronauts – many from Leiden – make observations with the most powerful telescopes in the world. This research strengthens international collaboration and has also led to positive changes in Chile, Infante noted. Society there has become more open and has a greater interest in education, while the local inhabitants benefit from tourism.

Prince Carlos with prize winners Luisa Machacón and Nick Middeldorp

Prince Bernhard Scholarships

Prince Carlos de Bourbon de Parme also highlighted the importance of research that benefits society. Representing the Dutch royal family, he awarded the prizes to the two Prince Bernhard Scholarship winners: Luisa Machacón (UvA) and Nick Middeldorp (Wageningen). Machacón conducts research into the role of victims of the Colombian civil war in the peace process. Middeldorp is studying how the construction of a large canal in Nicaragua has both positive and negative effects on the local inhabitants. ‘I hope that my research can help create a more just society,’ he said in his speech.

The Prince Bernhard Scholarship was established in 1991 by the Centre for Latin American Research and Documentation (CEDLA, situated in Amsterdam) to mark Prince Bernhard’s 80th birthday. Patricio Silva, Professor of Latin American History in Leiden, sits on the board of the CEDLA. Prince Carlos is the oldest son of Princess Irene and Carel Hugo de Bourbon de Parme.

(LvP/ foto's Marc de Haan)

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