Chemistry International
Vol. 22, No. 5, September 2000

2000, Vol. 22
No. 5 (September)
..Chemistry in Chile
..IUPAC Prize
..Air Quality in Denmark
..Highlights from the Web

..Reports from Symposia

..New Projects
..News and Notices
..Awards and Prizes
..New Books
..Provisional Recommendations
..Reports from Commissions
..Conference Announcements
..Conference Calendar

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Chemistry International
Vol. 22, No. 5
September 2000


An Outlook for Chemistry in Chile in 2000

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Want to Know More?
Science in Chile
Chile Science Newslist
Inigo's Science portal
Chemistry in . . .
Czech Republic

E. Delgado
Universidad de Concepción,
Concepción, Chile

Human Resources
Graduate Programs
The Chilean Chemical Society (SChQ)
Closing Remarks


This article surveys the history of chemistry in Chile as well as the current general aspects of research, human resources, graduate programs, and the main features of the Chilean Chemical Society.


Science, in general, was not important during the colonial period in Chile. Chemistry, in particular, underwent little development, with its activity limited to sporadic analyses of water and minerals. Teaching of chemistry on a regular basis, as well as some rudimentary research, began with the arrival of the Polish scientist Ignacio Domeyko, who was hired by the Chilean government to teach chemistry and mineralogy. In 1838, Domeyko founded the first laboratory of chemical analysis at the Colegio de Coquimbo. Domeyko was aware that science was the basis for economic development, and he, therefore, stressed the theoretical and practical study of chemistry and physics. In his laboratory, he trained the first Chilean chemists, who later became the chemistry teachers of the next generations.

As the 19th century was drawing to a close, the Chilean government hired German scientists to teach and develop the basic sciences in the country. However, by that time chemistry was regarded solely as an ancillary discipline in the study of other specialties, such as engineering, medicine, or pharmacy. As recently as the early part of the 20th century, the situation had not changed appreciably; chemistry was still limited to a secondary role within the academic environment.

In the 1940s, even though a state policy for science was yet to be defined, the chemical community began to organize in small groups, mainly within the universities [1]. Thus in 1944, on the 25 th anniversary of the Universidad de Concepción, the First Chilean Congress of Chemistry was held. At this congress, the bases for the future foundation of the Chilean Chemical Society were laid down, and the Society was officially established on 12 December 1946. The first issue of the Society’s journal, the Boletin de la Sociedad Chilena de Química, appeared in March 1950. In 1967, the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT) was created with three goals: (1) to promote and fund scientific research, (2) to establish graduate programs at the universities, and (3) to devise national policies for scientific development. A remarkable impetus for scientific research grew with the establishment of graduate programs in the 1970s.


According to figures from the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) [2], the Philadelphia-based institute that monitors scientific publishing trends, Chile produces more international papers per capita than Argentina and three times as many as Brazil and Mexico. The Chilean government spends about 0.67% of gross domestic product (GDP) on research– more than any other country in the region– yet far below developed countries such as the United States, Japan, or European countries that spend over 2% of GDP. As in most developing countries, the Chilean budget for research and development has been subject to large fluctuations throughout the country’s history. Such budget variations denote the lack of a stable policy for science and technology in Chile, unlike the situation in more developed countries where a fairly stable budget is observed over time. This fact reveals that research, historically, has not been considered an important activity for the country.

The Chilean government supports peer-reviewed research through its National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT) [3]. CONICYT spends most of its budget on two funding programs: (1) the National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development (FONDECYT), which supports roughly 1 000 basic research projects for up to three years, and (2) the Fund for Fostering Scientific and Technological Development (FONDEF), which spends a roughly equal amount on projects with potential economic impact in priority areas such as mining, forestry, and agriculture. The government’s participation in funding research has dropped since 1965 when it supported nearly 99% of research to a level of about 70% in 1997, mainly as a consequence of greater funding from industry. It is noteworthy that during this period, actual cash support of research by the government has increased; its lower percentage weight results from the appearance of alternative funding sources. About 50% of the Chilean research budget goes to research universities, 25% is distributed throughout the country, and the rest is shared among government institutes and other institutions engaged in research. Government support accounts for nearly 95% of the funds devoted to research in the universities. Currently, around 95% of the R&D budget is devoted to basic and applied research; therefore, technological development is almost nonexistent. Since the establishment of FONDECYT in 1982, almost 7% of the total funds disbursed have been spent on chemistry research projects totaling 4 500 million pesos over the period 1982—1997.

One of the most important indices of R&D is productivity, namely, the number of original articles published in international journals. Although Latin American papers account for only about 1.8% of the total number of articles in the journals indexed by ISI, an analysis performed for Science [1] by ISI shows that since 1981 the Latin American share has risen substantially, from about 1.3% to the current level–an increase of 38.5%. Four countries–Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and Chile–account for about 85% of the Latin American papers; the Chilean contribution to the Latin American total is 12%. The number of articles published by Chilean authors in ISI-indexed journals has risen from 675 in 1981 to 1 489 in 1996–an increase that doubtless can be attributed to the FONDECYT program. In chemistry, these figures increased from about 50 in 1981 to about 200 at present, with an average relative impact factor for the period of nearly 0.5. Relative impact factor is a comparison parameter that measures the frequency of citations to scientific articles; the world average is set at 1.0 [4].


This article was contributed by Prof. Eduardo J. Delgado (Department of Physical Chemistry, Faculty of Chemical Sciences, Casilla 160-C, Universidad de Concepción, Concepción, Chile; E-mail:, Secretary of the Chilean Chemical Society.


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