Las month I got a WhatsApp message from my brother. It was a newspaper clip announcing that the Royal Society awarded a Research Professorships to my former professor Manuel del Pino. The official publication says
These prestigious posts will provide long-term support for internationally recognised scientists of exceptional accomplishments from a range of diverse areas including biochemistry, genetics, mathematics, chemistry, developmental biology and physics.
The Royal Society Research Professorships are the Society’s premier research awards and help release the best leading researchers from teaching and administration to allow them to focus on research.
Manuel del Pino has made significant contributions to the theory of asymptotic patterns in nonlinear partial differential equations. He is a member of the Chilean Academy of Science (2010) and was awarded Chile’s National Prize of Science (2013).
Professor del Pino will use the Professorship to investigate how and when singularities occur in natural phenomena. His research can help us understand climate change, the spread of a tumour or black holes. Singularities occur in a number of fundamental scientific problems and their analysis is a fascinating mathematical challenge.
This is a well deserved award.
My first day at the university was amazing. After 12 years of using mandatory uniform in high school, the university was complete freedom. You were even allowed to smoke inside the classrooms. We used to smoke a lot in the eighties. Then I got my first real class, with my Teaching Assistant Manuel del Pino. He was an elder student, like all teaching assistants1. Probably at the fourth year of Mathematical Engineering.
Manuel was the Teaching Assistant of the late Prof. Luis Levet. They taught Algebra, Linear Algebra and Introduction to Calculus. At that time I planned to become a physicist, since I had a very good teacher in high school. But the passion that mathematicians had for their subject changed my mind. In the following years I enlisted myself also as Teaching Assistant for Prof. Levet. Manuel was pursuing his Ph.D. abroad.
We met again almost ten years later. Manuel became Professor at the Mathematical Engineering Department. He got tenure early, which is very hard with the strict rules of Universidad de Chile. Very few academics get to be full professors, and Manuel was one of them easily.
My colleagues say that he published up to 12 papers per year, all in high impact journals. Once I asked him how did he managed to write so much, and he essentially said “my papers write themselves”. So he really knows his subject. Nevertheless, he still manages to read Facebook and usually posts
He managed to write so much and still teach to large undergraduate courses. University of Chile gets 700 engineering students every year, forming 5 or 6 groups. In other words Manuel has to teach to 120 students three times each week.
While I worked at the Bioinformatic Lab my boss Dr. Alejandro Maass was the Deputy Director of the Mathematical Engineering Department, and Manuel was the Director. The role of Director is very demanding so the Director changes every two years, and the former director becomes Deputy Director. My former boss was the previous Department Director and now is Director of the Mathematical Modeling Center at University of Chile.
I feel very proud of all my former professors. Five of them have been awarded Chile’s National Prize of Science, the highest recognition you can get in my country. Only the really exceptional researchers can get it. I was lucky to study with them, to have one of them as my undergrad thesis’ advisor, another in my Ph.D. commission and other three, including Manuel, as teachers. I’m convinced that Alejandro, my former boss, will one day also get this award.
Teaching assistants in Chile are regular third-year students with good degrees. They do not have a regular contract with the university, which would be a lot of paperwork. Instead, teaching assistants get a “scholarship”.↩︎