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Interview |  Manuel Chicharro: “A government that wants to have a future must support public universities unconditionally”

Interview | Manuel Chicharro: “A government that wants to have a future must support public universities unconditionally”

Manuel Chicharro is Dean of the Faculty of Sciences of the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM).Where he works as a professor in the Department of Analytical Chemistry and Instrumental Analysis. A few weeks ago, he traveled to Asturias to attend the presentation of Bueño’s mathematics and science class, in Ribera de Arriba, an entity born with a call to publish, Improving scientific education for all citizens, starting with Mathematics, and directed by UAM Professor Emeritus Juan Luis Vázquez, born in the Ribera de Arriba Council. UAM became a participant in the project through the agreement signed with the Asturian City Council.

What is the interest of the UAM in this initiative?

The university does not have to limit itself to training future graduates or specialists in science, mathematics or technology. Rather, it should be the starting point of a cultural heritage. Regardless of whether you are in college or not, society requires knowledge to come out of the classroom. The Bueño Mathematics class is a catalyst for this need, in a rural area, in a small town in northern Spain. Because it is where it is, because it represents such a small social volume, it can be a precursor to what I think the future of the university should be. This is the goal: for the university to come out of the classroom and to be known by society, and we are doing this at a difficult time, when society does not fully understand what university knowledge means.

They took the exit very seriously, and chose a town of no more than a hundred residents.

The Faculty of Sciences UAM is the largest in this country. We have 10 undergraduate degrees, 23 master’s studies, coordinating double degrees in geography and environmental sciences. When this idea arose and was conveyed to me by Juan Luis Vazquez, as Honorary of the College, it seemed to me very interesting, not only to leave the Autonomous Community, but to go out to a rural area and for the enormous contrast that it entailed. That encouraged me to collaborate.

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Are there similar initiatives?

There are others. Perhaps the best known is Menendez Pelayo University. I don’t know how to measure, but I suspect that in a small environment like Bueño, there is another initiative similar to a math class. If you will allow me to be bold, I will say that it is a pioneering initiative on a national level.

Does this mean that the dissemination of science does not require large investments or not? Infrastructure?

It is a matter of will. Volunteering is very much in Spanish Public University, but it must be accompanied by some financial support. In this case, the Ribera de Arriba City Council supports this project with the acquisition and rehabilitation of a building. You don’t need a lot of money to show people the importance of physics, chemistry or mathematics, what you have to have is desire and enthusiasm.

What will be the specific role of UAM in Bueño’s math class?

The direction is led by Juan Luis Vazquez as Professor Emeritus at UAM. Before starting work in the mathematics class, I made use of my acquaintance with the Dean of Chemistry at the University of Oviedo to transfer the initiative to her. We will also take it to other universities and contribute content from the Faculty of Science at UAM.

And the University of Oviedo?

In this first year, the class should focus on mathematics, but in the future the role of chemistry will begin, so I will speak with Susana Fernández, Dean of Chemistry, and the Dean of Sciences will also collaborate in Oviedo, to gradually integrate other sciences.

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Can science and human culture go hand in hand?

It is essential. Furthermore, the Faculty of Sciences at UAM has an open degree in sciences, in which the student chooses the curriculum, in collaboration with the Faculty of Philosophy at UAM, we collaborate with the Autonomous University of Barcelona and Carlos III for a degree in science, technology and humanities. Interdisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity are three essential elements for training university students for the future. We cannot create compartments between science, technology, linguistics, economics, philosophy, and mldr; You have to unite everything, because knowledge is shared. Global knowledge is very important for the future society. You have to radically change the configuration.

Is it possible to say that not so long ago Spain was a country of letters?

We have different paths, discourses and sciences, but with the same importance and intensity. Spain has gone through periods of light and shadow in the human aspects, but the science in Spain is doing well, it is very popular and we have great personalities who have traveled abroad.

On the verge of national elections, what does the Spanish university ask of the future government?

We have to ask politicians to really support and support the state university with what it needs and strive for its prestige. The state university hosts practically 75% of the Spanish research. You have to stand up for her, give her money, believe in her and trust her.

he current government And the precedents did not trust the state university?

Suppose he does not trust them, but any government that wants to prosper and have a future must support public universities unconditionally.

Mathematics is fundamental to understanding the world, but there is no great general mathematical culture.

The two pillars of knowledge that we study from childhood are language and mathematics. Without mathematics there is no capacity for other sciences, it is the mainstay on which other scientific knowledge is based. This moment is the explosion of big data. The sheer volume of data we produce is of such depth that mathematics has to solve. There is artificial intelligence… Mathematics is vital.

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Are we in the age of mathematics?

I think from a few years ago. It is seen in the great appeal that mathematics studies have on a national level. We, at UAM, six or seven years ago, didn’t cover the admission numbers, the final score was five.

And now?

We’re close to 13. We live in a time of mathematical splendor. Why is mathematics so difficult for society? Maybe we mathematicians are to blame, for not rounding. This country is missing something very important in science, which is the dissemination of scientific knowledge in society, and I will criticize myself: we have failed in this. We read a poem, we understand Plato, but If a mathematician explains a theory to us, without making an effort to deal with that language, it is very difficult for us to understand it..

Is it like learning a foreign language?

Indeed, but it requires that part of disclosure, to make society understand where the wealth of our knowledge is. The moment you understand it, you can understand it. Perhaps the pandemic, with all the bad things it has, has allowed us to understand that science is there, that it is accessible to everyone, that it can solve problems and that it does so much for us. Science and scientific knowledge can also be used against society, but let’s stay with the good part.

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