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Strengthening Scientific Diplomacy: ONR Global Celebrates 20 Years in Santiago, Chile

20 December 2022

From Warren Duffie Jr., Office of Naval Research

ARLINGTON, Va. - Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Lorin Selby, as well as other leaders from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and ONR Global — the command’s international arm — recently traveled to Santiago, Chile, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of ONR Global’s office in that city.

Bernadette Meehan, the U.S. Ambassador to Chile, held a special commemorative event at her official residence, which featured Chilean dignitaries, political and military leaders, academics and scientific researchers, and former ONR Global staff.

“It’s incredibly humbling to stand before you to celebrate this wonderful 20-year milestone,” said Selby. “I’m so impressed with the people of Chile, the talent of your scientific community and quality of your research.

“The problems we face today are incredibly complex, and the U.S. can no longer solve them alone,” he continued. “That’s why it’s vital to seek out like-minded partner nations and establish relationships built on trust and a spirit of collaboration — relationships like the one we have with Chile.”

The celebration was part of a week-long series of engagements related to the two-decade anniversary of the Santiago office, which is located at the U.S. Embassy. ONR Global established the office in 2002 to cultivate scientific collaboration in Chile and throughout Latin America, sponsoring research to discover and advance naval capabilities.

Over the years, grants from ONR Global Santiago have supported a wide variety of science and technology projects all over Latin America — encompassing topics such as tsunami prediction, marine biofilms, polar navigation, marine mammal research, climate and meteorological research, and robotics.

““When this scientific office was established, it was the first of its kind in Latin America,” said Meehan. “The main questions it deals with involve identifying the deepest, most impactful scientific collaboration in Chile — to look for the most important research relevant to today and another 20 years from now.

“In the United States, we don’t have a monopoly on good ideas,” she continued. “It’s important to work with global partners to recognize the next scientific breakthroughs. The relationship between the U.S., ONR Global and Chile is one of shared values, a passion for scientific experimentation, a willingness to fail and the strength to keep going. It’s truly inspiring.”

During the Chile trip, Selby also spoke at ExpoNaval 2022, an important exhibition for Latin American navies and exhibitors from the global defense industry; toured a shipyard that builds vessels for the Chilean navy; visited the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile to learn about ONR Global-funded research at that school; and helped launch a new STEM program for middle school, junior high and high school students in the region of Valparaiso.

“This anniversary demonstrates that, while technology is important, partnerships and people are equally important,” said ONR Global Commanding Officer Capt. Matt Farr. “I’m excited about the future because of the great innovation we see coming out of Chile to expand on the investments we’ve made.”

The 20th anniversary of the Santiago office expands on several other upcoming milestones highlighting the U.S.-Chile partnership. For example, next year marks the 200th anniversary of official relations between both nations, and 20 years since they established a Free Trade Agreement.

“This has been a long-standing relationship that has increased throughout the years,” said Sonia Wolff, who helped open the Santiago office in 2002 and currently serves as its associate science director. “It meets with the goals and principles of ONR Global and provides Chilean scientists with the resources to research areas they might not otherwise be able to research.”

In addition, the connections between the U.S., its Navy and Chile stretch back to 1849, when Lt. James Melville Gilliss, who helped establish the U.S. Naval Observatory, arrived in Chile with a small team of assistants to set up an observatory in Santiago.

Their goal was to measure the solar parallax — determining the distance from the Earth to the Sun by observing the Sun simultaneously from two points along a known baseline on approximately the same longitude; in this case, the line between Washington, D.C., and Santiago.

Over the course of three years, Gilliss’ team would accomplish far more than these astronomical observations: collections of flora and fauna sent back to the U.S. became an early addition to the young Smithsonian Institution, seeds of various trees and crops were exchanged between the two countries, and equipment used during the expedition would form the nucleus of Chile’s first modern observatory.


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