Interview: New opportunities for R&D in Chile – the arrival of the Fraunhofer Chile Research Center for Systems Biology

Fig. 1 Filosofía de trabajo de Fraunhofer

Fraunhofer es una de las instituciones de investigación en ciencias básicas más prestigiosas a nivel mundial. Su llegada a Chile abre la oportunidad de llevar adelante proyectos de gran impacto científico y de beneficiar la sociedad con los productos derivados de esas investigaciones.

Este artículo presenta una entrevista realizada al director del centro, Dr. Wolfgang Schuch (WS), y pretende entregar información con respecto a la filosofía de trabajo y los objetivos de esta institución en Chile.

El comité editorial de la ANIP publica la entrevista integra en inglés, para entregar con mayor fidelidad las ideas del Dr Schuch. Asimismo, deseamos aclarar que ANIP no posee ninguna relación con dicha institución.  Te invitamos a leerla.


The Corporación de Fomento de la Producción (CORFO), the main Chilean agency that supports the establishment and growth of national firms with the potential to be highly competitive worldwide, have launched a few years ago an ambitious program directed to attract international Centres of Excellence in research and development (R&D)1. These institutions should be interested in settling in Chile in partnership with national entities of R&D, in order to foster new capabilities and scientific and technological infrastructure in the country. On October 2010, the Fraunhofer Chile Research Center for Systems Biology was launched, after a bilateral agreement between the Chilean government and the Fraunhofer Institute. Dr. Wolfgang Schuch, who has an extensive experience in the management of biotechnology projects and in technology transfer, was appointed head of the center, stressing the relevance that the Fraunhofer has given to this new subsidiary.


For those that have decided to follow postgraduate studies after achieving their undergraduate degree, to be hired by these institutions could represent an excellent alternative to the academic career; even more when the quotes for these positions in the Chilean universities are becoming increasingly scarce. Additionally, to know how and why one of the largest application-oriented research organizations of the world came to Chile are questions whose answers may help us to understand the potential of our country to become a global player in applied research and to add value to our products. Recently, these and other inquiries were asked by us to Dr. Schuch. A summary of his answers are presented below:


R.N. : How would you describe the Fraunhofer and its philosophy of work?

WS: The Fraunhofer is a German institution which provides solutions to problems presented by industry and society. It carries out applied research in its 60 research establishments which are largely based in Germany but several are distributed around the world. We know that the industry and society face many challenges, which are related to the increased demand of the population for more and better products and the desire to improve their living standards. Instead of being a problem, such trend creates the opportunity to use basic science derived knowledge to attach in the best way possible these demands, generating a virtuous circle of demand-research-innovation and development that helps the institution to perform leading edge science with resources gathered from the industry as well as from the government (Figure 1).This strategy allows the institute to finance its centres as well as generate new ones at different countries, such as Chile. The opportunities that drive the research are simple, being generated by needs of industry such as regulatory derived demands, i.e. improve miner derived waste water quality;  improvement of  already existing processes or even design of new and more efficient ways to perform a given task. The solutions may be quite simple, or complex and innovative, being derived from the several research-institutes the Fraunhofer have created, or from the universities that have an active collaboration with this organization.


R.N. :Why the Fraunhofer have chosen Chile as its first Latin American location?

WS: One of the keys to understand this strategic determination, among others such as the political and economic stability of Chile, is the broad number of bilateral trade agreements that our country has signed in the last ten years. The possibilities to bring new products originally generated in the Fraunhofer, improve them locally and thereafter sold them as Chileans to the nations with which trade agreements exist, with the concomitant lower taxes/higher profits, poses economic advantages for Chile as well as for this institution.


R.N. :Which is the profile of the researchers that are you looking for? 

WS: We know that the opportunity to work in Fraunhofer without leaving Chile is quite attractive, given the excellence of the research performed by our institute. To reach this goal, the candidate has to stand out from his peers, above all the quality of the researcher, has to be outstanding. Other factors that are considered, and that may help Chilean candidates to be hired, are the connections they have and the knowledge of the culture from the place where the Fraunhofer is located. The local webpage, which will be running soon, will have a jobs section that is going to deliver information relevant about this issue.


Fortunately, Dr. Wolfgang Schuch has had a good impression regarding the quality and the scope of the research performed in our country. The success of the Fraunhofer in Chile may open the path for the arrival of other prestigious institutions of the world to our country; therefore it is crucial to face this new partnership with the seriousness it deserves. Additionally, we expected that this initiative will encourage the private sector to invest in R&D, one of the main challenges that our country face in the path toward development.



Ricardo Nilo Poyanco, PhD

Ingeniero en Biotecnología Molecular, Universidad de Chile

Doctor en Biotecnología, Universidad Andrés Bello




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