Living Between Colombia and Germany

In 2012, Bernardo Uribe from Colombia received the TWAS Prize to Young Scientists in the field of mathematics, awarded by The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS). He is currently one of Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s research fellows, working at the University of Bonn.

Bernardo Uribe is no stranger to Germany – but the Colombian still has his problems with the winter months. He came to Germany for the first time in 2002, a postdoc at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in Bonn. After this, he kept returning to do research and teach in Münster and Bonn. He has now been working as a Humboldt Research Fellow at the University of Bonn since July 2012. “This is a very special time for me because I can concentrate completely on my research,” he says.

Bernardo Uribe
Humboldt Research Fellow Bernardo Uribe
Photo: Humboldt Foundation/ Daniela Schmitter
 
Even before he set out for Germany, the Humboldt Foundation provided support: there were problems in the run-up to getting a visa. “My contact at the Foundation sorted out the misunderstandings with the Immigration Office directly so that I got my residence permit in plenty of time,” Uribe explains. He is grateful to this day for such professional, individual support.

For a mathematician in Colombia to concentrate exclusively on research is unthinkable, according to Uribe. Abstract sciences are not on the agenda. “The politicians want to see results, so they mostly invest in applied science,” the 37 year-old comments. And not even the fact that his research earned him last year’s TWAS Prize to Young Scientists in the field of mathematics, awarded by The World Academy of Sciences, can change this.

Uribe finds the research situation in Germany very attractive. “Even the politicians are convinced that you have to promote the entire spectrum of research.” He feels the science system here has developed enormously since his first stay in 2002. “All the things that have been kick-started by the Excellence Initiative – I’m constantly amazed by it” says the mathematician. Research institutes and universities work hand in hand, bundle resources and are totally focussed. “They are well-organised, functioning networks,” he concludes.

Bernardo Uribe
Bernardo Uribe at his host institution
in Bonn

Photo: Humboldt Foundation/
Daniela Schmitter

Uribe associates Alexander von Humboldt with one thing in particular: scientific curiosity. “That’s what unites all Humboldtians – irrespective of subject.” He was made especially aware of this during the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s regional networking meeting in Hanover. “The urge to discover something new drives us to choose difficult paths.” Generally, the networking meeting was a complete eye-opener for Uribe: here he encountered something like the spirit of Humboldt, a strong feeling of connectedness and familiarity. “It’s like one big family; everybody’s there for everybody else.” He is proud to be a member of this prestigious international network.

Just how far this network stretches, Uribe recently discovered at a conference in Hamburg. In the Hanseatic city he happened to meet a professor who had been a Humboldt Fellow in the United States 20 years ago. He immediately offered the Colombian his support for future visits to Germany.

But the Humboldt Network does not only open up new paths for its fellows. The researchers themselves are the ones who help create and promote its cohesion. In 2014, Uribe will return to Colombia, to teach and conduct research at his own Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá. He will then become a Humboldt host, offering to mentor candidates from Germany who wish to come to his institute in Colombia, supported by a Humboldt Fellowship. With the help of the Foundation he would like to set up special research groups in his area of topology and help to establish a recognised place for mathematics in the Colombia of today.

By Katja Lüers

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