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[SANTIAGO] Chile has launched five new science and technology centres as part of the country's attempt to boost investment in research and development.

The 'centres of excellence' — formed around the work of five research groups — were launched earlier this month (2 September) with funding from the country's National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT).

They join eight other centres launched last year as part of the same US$101 million funding programme.
"These centres are the leading initiative of [Chile's] national science policy, both in terms of the amount of money invested and the broad professional experience of their research groups," César Muñoz, director of CONICYT's Associative Research Programme, told SciDev.Net. "This funding will allow researchers to consolidate and sustain work they were already doing."

The new centres involve the country's Centre for Optics and Photonics (CEFOP), the Science and Technology Centre of Valparaiso, the Centre for the Development of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, the Advanced Mining Technology Center, and the Institute for Complex Engineering Systems.

Areas of research at these centres are based on guidelines issued by Chile's National Innovation Council for Competitiveness. They are also in line with recommendations made by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) — a governmental forum of mostly developed nations.

In a report issued last April, the OECD urged Chile to prioritise science funding for "more excellence centres and regional initiatives, and [to] support research areas strategic for the economic development" (see Chile 'should invest more in R&D and innovation').

It also recommended that more investment in infrastructure, focused on a small number of centres. In addition, these centres should seek partnerships and financing from the business sector. The centres should also engage in research agreements with local and international centres, and commit to training young scientists.

CEFOP, which is developing remote sensing technologies and optic instruments for space and satellite missions, is working with the European space consortium EADS-Astrium.

"We are looking forward to training the next generation of engineers and opticians who will take part in the development of specific instruments for the next generation of satellites," CEFOP director, Carlos Saavedra, told SciDev.Net.