News | Academics

Professors win global center grants to do research in Chile

  • Judith Eng for Spectator
    OFF TO CHILE | Clara Irazábal, an assistant professor of architecture, planning, and preservation, will use her grant to study urban reconstruction efforts following the 2010 Chilean earthquake.

Reconstruction efforts after the 2010 Chilean earthquake and the economics of public education are some of the topics eight faculty members will study in Chile after receiving grants of up to $30,000 as part of a new global center grant program.

The winners, announced this week by Provost John Coatsworth, were chosen from a pool of 27 applications from nine different schools in Columbia. The projects had to include faculty members from both Columbia and at least one university in Chile and opportunities for student participation.

Coatsworth said in a statement that some of the priorities of the program were “to encourage the flow of people and networks to Chile, and facilitate the long-term relations between Columbia and Chilean universities.”

“We’re very excited,” Karen Poniachik, the director of the Santiago global center, said. “The fact that we received 27 proposals from so many different disciplines is an indication of the potential that Columbia University has to engage in research and joint collaboration with Chilean universities through our center.”

Clara Irazábal, an assistant professor of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, won a grant to study urban reconstruction in Chilean cities in the aftermath of the 2010 magnitude-8.8 earthquake. 

“We are super excited for this project because it’s going to jump-start a network of research associates that we are creating in Chile that hopefully will lead us to the enlargement of this particular program,” Irazábal said. 

Irazábal said that while she has been paying particular attention to the city of Talca, which had 60 percent of its downtown buildings destroyed, her grant will also examine reconstruction efforts in several central Chilean cities as well. 

“The level of reconstruction that needs to happen there and the opportunities for the city to reconsider itself, to design itself, in different manners that are more sustainable, open up with these circumstances,”  she said. Irazábal’s next steps are to collaborate with colleagues in public health, law, social work, sociology, and geography, who she hopes will provide new angles to look at the issue.

Biological sciences professor Julio Fernández will use his grant to help start a collaboration between his biophysics group at Columbia and Chilean enzymologist Dr. Victoria Guixé, a professor at the University of Chile.

“I will use part of the funds to support Dr. Guixe during a three month visit to my laboratory this summer,” Fernández said in an email. “The plan is to develop a joint research project studying the degradation of proteins using single molecule techniques.”

“This is no easy task,” Fernández said. “But I most certainly look forward to helping make this initiative a resounding success.”

Miguel Urquiola, an associate professor of economics and international and public affairs, will use his grant to conduct research on the economics of education in Chile—specifically, the consequences of opening public and private schools.

“Chile is interesting because it is the country that has most seriously taken to heart the idea of using vouchers in education,” Urquiola said. “Part of this work will also be somewhat interacting with authorities in Chile, and I think this is one way in which SIPA can be involved in two things simultaneously, which is rigorous research and engaging with policy questions around the globe.”

Other research projects funded by the grants include the effects of retirement age on health, quantifying the health benefits of burning biomass, and finding new ways to seasonably manage Chile’s rainforests.

Poniachik said that one of the Santiago global center’s  plans for the next year is finding projects that will work with multiple global centers. Columbia recently opened submissions for the second request for proposals for the President’s Global Innovation Fund, which like the Chilean fund will provide grants for faculty to do research at the global centers.

Urquiola said he will also collaborate with a couple of School of International and Public Affairs graduate students.

“Getting some graduate students can be very valuable for the center because then they can generate long-term interest, and for all you know these people may be faculty someplace else, and they’ll be working on this specific idea,” he said. “If I were trying to increase work in a given country, or a given region, and I had money, this is a really good way to do this.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Miguel Urquiola's last name as "Urquiolo" in one instance. Spectator regrets the error.

rana.hilal@columbiaspectator.com  |  @ra_hilal

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