Today, I am in Oaxaca, Mexico, partying (literally) with the Director General of the National Council for Science and Technology (CONACyT), Dr. Enrique Cabrero Mendoza, the Governor of the State of Oaxaca, Gabino Cué Monteagudo, Billionaire Philanthropist Harp Helú, several senior representatives of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM), many other Mexican officials, and of course dozens of mathematicians who came here from every part of Mexico. The occasion? The announcement ceremony for the funding of a new research facility affiliated with the Banff International Research Station (BIRS). Thanks to a generous land donation from Francisco Toledo (arguably Mexico’s most eminent contemporary artist) and a 43-million pesos infrastructure grant from Conacyt (NSERC’s Mexican counterpart), the BIRS-affiliated Casa Matematica Oaxaca (CMO) is finally becoming a reality.
Here is a photo with Fransisco Toledo, and Harp Helú: two remarkable men, each in his own way. What do they have in common? The means of course, but also their love of culture, the arts and the environment, philanthropy, extreme humility, and a deep personal commitment to the state of Oaxaca. They were all what the journalists and photographers wanted to talk to and snap pictures of.
And here are the director of Conacyt, Dr. Enrique Cabrero Mendoza, and the Governor of the State of Oaxaca, Gabino Cué Monteagudo. And yes, I had to remove my tie in a hurry once I saw them arriving to the ceremony.
Here is some background to this story: Since its inauguration 10 years ago, the number of workshop proposals submitted to BIRS climbed from 79 in 2003 to 173 for this year. The extraordinary response to the opportunities at BIRS has led to extremely high quality competitions for the available 48 workshops that the station hosts every year. In other words, many excellent proposals were being declined just for lack of space.
Recall that BIRS embraces all aspects of the mathematical, computational and statistical sciences from their most fundamental core challenges to their applications in physics, finance, industry and the life sciences. This year’s proposals were catalogued in the following 30 categories:
In 2012, the BIRS Board of Directors decided to expand the BIRS opportunities by approving a plan to proceed towards the development of an affiliated station in Mexico. CMO is to be built on a lot adjacent to El Centro de las Artes, also known as CASA, which is located in San Agustín Etla, a town that lies in a picturesque canyon in the foothills of the Sierra de San Felipe seventeen miles north of the city of Oaxaca. Here is the entrance of CASA.
Not unlike The Banff Centre (TBC), which is the home of BIRS, CASA is a place of high culture that draws in artists, students, intellectual leaders and other creative forces; a remarkable public space, where education, artistic creation and experimentation thrive. Founded in 2000 by Francisco Toledo, CASA was the first eco-arts center in Latin America. It is funded through the National Center for the Arts, the State Government of Oaxaca, and private foundations including the Harp Helú Foundation.
The construction will be starting immediately, since we are hoping that the facility would be ready to host its share of the BIRS program as soon as June 2015. Twenty-five workshops have already been selected to run at CMO in 2015. These will be in addition to the 52 workshops that will be hosted at Banff. For the remaining part of the year, CMO will be hosting summer schools and math education workshops for high schools teachers and students.
Here is the maquette of the site to be constructed.
I would like to thank our Mexican colleagues, who have been working tirelessly towards making this exciting initiative a reality.
First, the directors of the Mexican mathematical institutes, José Antonio De la Peña (Director of CIMAT), Javier Bracho (Director of Instituto de Matemáticas, UNAM), Onesimo Hernandez-Lerma (Director del departamento de Matemáticas del Cinvestav), and Daniel Juan (Director del Centro de Ciencias Matemáticas en Morelia). Also, Dr. Carlos Arámburo, the vice-rector for research at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, which has always been a major supporter of BIRS and now of CMO.
Special thanks also go to a distinguished member of the BIRS Board, former rector of UNAM and Mexico Cabinet minister, Dr. Juan Ramón de la Fuente, whose commitment to reform and excellence in STEM fields made him a crucial advocate for the initiative.
UNAM Professor of Mathematics, Dr. Maria Emilia Caballero (photo below) has played a major role in reaching out to Francesco Toledo, hence insuring that CASA will be the home of CMO. Here is Maria Emilia at the archeological site of Monte Alban, a remarkable spiritual place, which is destined to become a pilgrimage site for the mathematical scientists participating in the BIRS workshops at CMO.
Last but not least, we are greatly indebted to Dr. Enrique Cabrero Mendoza, Director general del Conacyt, and to Dr. Elias Micha, Deputy Director of Regional Development at CONACyT, whose commitment to a pan-American vision for science and technology, made this North-American collaborative effort possible.
Special thanks go to Governor Lic. Gabino Cué Monteagudo and to Mtro. Fr Francisco Toledo for their keen interest in bringing this international initiative to the state of Oaxaca.
The world’s scientific community owes them all a great deal of gratitude.
Here is what the Mexican national press is saying about the BIRS-CMO partnership
Here is what the regional press in Oaxaca is saying