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Mathematics applied to daily life

Mauricio Velasco Photo
He studied mathematics at the Universidad de los Andes. In 2002, he began a doctorate in Economics at Cornell University but quit to focus on mathematics.
04/06/2018
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Professor Mauricio Velasco lets out a laugh when you tell him that he does not seem like a mathematician because of the way he looks and the way he talks.

He has heard this a thousand times, but it still amuses him, “It’s a cliché that mathematicians are shy, nervous, and only stare at the floor. But, nothing could be further from the truth. We are not all John Forbes Nash”, he says referencing the brilliant but eccentric scientist that Russel Crowe portrayed in A Brilliant Mind. “We are not all odd”, he concludes, and then laughs again.

Mauricio has been part of the Department of Mathematics at Universidad de los Andes since 2011. Even before, however, he dedicated a large part of his time to working on his specialist subject: geometric algebra, optimization, and the way they interact.

He uses clear and fluid language to explain his work. He has a harmonious voice that sounds almost musical. He is wearing light blue jeans and a simple black jumper. He has a long grey beard and has an easy and contagious smile.

He explains that this work is applicable to almost any daily problem (read: improve Transmilenio routes or patients in the public health system) and has won him awards such as the 2016 TWAS Prize (Third World Academy of Sciences), which was presented by the Academy of Exact and Natural Sciences in Italy. In 2017, he received the José Fernando Escobar Prize, that was awarded by the Colombian Society of Mathematicians to those who have excelled in their research in either pure or applied mathematics.

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The selection of Ediciones Uniandes research books

A shelf full of books that are published by the Uniandes publishing house.
Every year Los Andes publishes more than one hundred research books. 
01/06/2018
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The production of research by staff at the Universidad de los Andes is mainly found in academic articles and publications in specialized journals; however, it is also published by books that are listed in the Ediciones Uniandes catalogue.

This publishing house focuses on publishing research books as well as disseminating them through diverse channels.

These channels include the platform eBooks, which uses electronic formats to give the community of researchers, students, and general-public a simple, dynamic, and robust tool to access, consult, read, download, and formally subscribe (from any device) to the contents of the Ediciones Uniandes interdisciplinary catalogue.

“The publishing house relies on the Vice-Dean for Research and Doctorates Office, and the vast majority of books that we offer depends on the research that is undertaken in the university. These products have some particular characteristics and they are reviewed by committees in departments and faculties to be certain that they fulfil academic research publication requirements.”

Ediciones Uniandes is the third most prolific university publishing house; it publishes close to one hundred books a year.

As part of our commitment to make scientific, artistic, and cultural books available for the academic and general-public, we promote co-editions with strategic alliances, foster intercultural dialogue by translating content, and support publishing policies such as open access.

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Outstanding Uniandino participation in the Harvard model UN

Image of the UN model
Uniandinos were awarded three awards in five committees.
30/05/2018
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Twelve students from the Faculties of Law, Business Administration, and Economics competed in the prestigious United Nations model that was held at the University of Harvard.

More than three thousand students participated in this event from the best universities throughout the world – from 69 countries.

For the fourth consecutive year, the Uniandino delegation has performed outstandingly by receiving three recommendations in five committees.

On this occasion, the delegation achieved its successes when representing the State of Israel and the Republic of Mauritius. It addressed internationally relevant topics such as food security, LGTBIQ community rights, and financing terrorist groups.

After having achieved the best result in this competition, the students went to Washington D.C. where they met Camilo Reyes - the Colombian ambassador to the United States. They spent an afternoon with him discussing Colombia’s international agenda and talked about the practice of diplomacy.

The Uniandes delegation included: Juan Pablo Tello and Mateo Bermeo (Faculty Advisor - Trainer), Álvaro José Salgado and Marianna Caballero (Head Delegate), and Martín Téllez, Isabella Mejía, Juan Pablo Rico, Gabriela Sanabria, Juan David Castro, María Esther Eljach, Camilo Torres, and Nicolás Garzón.
The winners
Álvaro José Salgado and Martín Téllez (Outstanding Delegate- DISEC).

Juan David Castro and Camilo Torres (Honorable Mention- LEGAL).

María Esther Eljach and Nicolás Garzón (Diplomatic Mention- WHO).

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Synthetic drugs turn zombies from fiction into reality

A spoon with capsules and pills
Analysis by Ricardo Peña, professor of medicine at the Universidad de los Andes, about the so-called ‘zombie drugs’ or ‘synthetic drugs’.
30/05/2018
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By: Ricardo A. Peña Silva 
M.D., Ph.D. in Pharmacology
Director of research and professor in the Faculty of Medicine 
Universidad de los Andes


In films and literature, we have seen human beings who wander around unconsciously, they walk slowly, their movements are clumsy, and they appear to be in a troubled state. They talk incoherently, seem to not be aware of what they are doing, and can even cause others harm. These ‘people’ are called zombies and their affliction has been blamed on magic, infections, radiation, or other phenomena. We have seen them in films such as The Return of the Living Dead or in the series such as The Walking Dead.

However, over recent years, zombies have gone from fiction to becoming real people who the media has shown either causing physical damage or fear in the community. These real-life zombies are not the result of magic, but instead the product of abusing substances known colloquially as zombie drugs or scientifically as synthetic drugs.

The most infamous image we have seen was of a man in an agitated state eating body parts of the victim he attacked after having taken Flakka (a zombie drug) in Florida, U.S.A. There have also been reports of the drug in Colombia, and recently we heard of parties in the Coffee Growing region where young people became erratic and uncontrolled after having taken zombie drugs. 

The manufacture and distribution of these drugs is not regulated, and this means that it is very difficult to identify the substance responsible for intoxication and to predict the effects that these drugs have on the organism. They were generally designed in legal scientific laboratories to study the effects that different neurotransmitters had on neurons and the central nervous system. However, the manufacturing methods were described in the scientific literature, which allowed these compounds to be made in a less-controlled and more artisan manner. 

To pass the security measures, these synthetic drugs are mixed with vegetable products (generally inert) and are sold as ‘incense’ to smoke or to be used in hookah pipes. Some of these substances can also be ingested by being injected.

Zombie drugs are very addictive, and they can cause severe intoxications as the content of the drug is highly variable and because of the extreme potency of the compounds. For example, a synthetic cannabinoid named after the AK-47 assault rifle, which contains the AMB-FUBINACA molecule, can be up to two hundred times more potent than regular marihuana. So, a very low dose of AMB-FUBINACA is needed to achieve similar effects to marijuana on the central nervous system. 

Synthetic drugs have an effect on the central nervous system, and they can be divided into various groups including: cathinone-like stimulants that are known colloquially as ‘bath salts’ (Flakka), synthetic opioids that are similar to morphine (Krokodil), and cannabinoids (AK-47).

The stimulants are generally alkaloids derived from plants such as Catha edulis, or they contain molecules similar to MDMA (ecstasy). They increase the levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine on the central nervous system, and their effects on the organism are comparable with those reported with the use of ecstasy, amphetamine, and cocaine. The effects include a sensation of euphoria, psychomotor agitation, convulsions, paranoia, hallucinations, and attacks of rage. When the subjects are under the effects of the drug, they may destroy objects or harm people around them. Also, the people who consume these drugs can have heart, muscle, and liver problems, which can lead to death. 

Synthetic cannabinoids behave similarly to marihuana. In general, they depress the functions of the central nervous system, and they can distort the perception of reality. In some people, the psychotic symptoms have lasted up to five months. These cannabinoids also have severe adverse effects such as anxiety (which can result in suicides), convulsions, hypertension, kidney damage, and heart problems (that can end in a heart attack and then death). 

Given the variety of zombie drugs available and the high doses to which people can be exposed, healthcare workers are finding it a challenge to tackle medical emergencies and confirm the exact cause of the intoxication. Treatment for intoxication with these substances focuses on controlling the complications of the patients, many of whom are treated in intensive care.  

The low cost of producing synthetic drugs as well as the low-level of control and monitoring to counter their production and distribution mean that the use of zombie drugs is emerging as an important public health issue. 

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A project that uses fish to study Chagas disease has been presented with an award

Black striped fish in a tank of green liquid
The Establishment of Embryonic Zebrafish as an Animal Model to Investigate Trypanosoma Cruzi Motility in Vivo project was presented with the 2017 Cardioinfantil Foundation Day of Research award.
30/05/2018
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“Nobody has observed trypanosoma inside a living being.”
This claim was made by Verónica Akle, who has a PhD in anatomy and neuroscience from the University of Boston, about the research that was carried out together with a team of scientists from Universidad de los Andes regarding Trypanosoma cruzi: a parasite that causes Chagas disease. 

In contrast to others, the method that Dr. Akle uses is truly innovative. 

The researchers swapped primates and rats for zebrafish, which are used in science due to their high compatibility with humans in terms of their genetic material. For this reason, they are used to study diseases. 

Additionally, their transparent anatomy is essential to be able to analyze the interaction of the live parasite that is inside a living being.

The biologist Verónica Akle, who is also the director of the Laboratory of Neuroscience and Circadian Rhythms at Los Andes, explains that, “we obtained Trypanosoma cruzi parasites, we painted them with a fluorescent marker and we introduced them into the zebrafish embryos”. 

For doctor John Mario Gónzalez, who has a PhD in Basic Medical Sciences and is member of the team of scientists who developed this project, the results from the first studies are surprising: “The parasite that infects humans attaches itself to the fish –to the heart valves and the endothelium– in the same way as it does in humans.” 
However, clearly observing this interaction was not an easy task.

It was necessary to use a laser microscope from the biophysics group led by Manu Forero-Sheton who has a PhD in sciences from the Swiss Federal Polytechnic Institute, ETH Zurich.

The results delivered by this phase of the research will allow scientists to evaluate Trypanosoma cruzi´s motility (the way that the parasite moves inside a living being) so that in the future Chagas disease can be treated.  

Dr. González, director of the Laboratory of Basic Medical Sciences at Universidad de los Andes concludes that, “We can block this interaction, and, thus, develop a medicine for humans”. 

This project, entitled Establishment of Embryonic Zebrafish as an Animal Model to Investigate Trypanosoma Cruzi Motility in Vivo, was presented with the 2017 Cardioinfantil Foundation Day of Research award. 

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Scientists from Los Andes participate in the creation of a 3D map of the Universe

Image of the universe taken by a telescope from Earth.
Jaime Ernesto Forero Romero, associate professor in the Department of Physics, is part of the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument project, which will create a new 3D map of the Universe.
04/05/2018
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The reason why finding the answer to this question is so difficult is that only five percent of the Universe’s matter and energy content are the same as the matter that we experience in our daily lives; it is still unclear what the other types of matter and energy are.

The scientific community has spent the past 45 years creating detailed maps of the universe to deduce the properties of these components that belong to the unknown matter and energy. As technology advances, the map has an increasing number of points that represent the location of a galaxy. The first maps had thousands of galaxies, but today the maps show millions of galaxies.

Colombia is participating in the project.

Jaime Ernesto Forero Romero, associate professor in the Department of Physics at the Universidad de los Andes is leading the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) project in Colombia, which will create a new 3D map of the Universe.

“We know that, apparently, the galaxies move farther away from us. Until now, the most satisfactory explication for this has been the proposal that suggested the presence of dark matter. We don’t know what this is but it would explain the accelerated expansion of the universe. For this reason, this project is an important global step forward as it signifies having a better understanding of the nature of this dark matter, and, for the first time, a Colombian institution is taking part,” explains Forero.

To work on the project and to create the map, a telescope is required, which is currently located in the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, U.S.A.

“To carry out this project, the telescope needs to be taken apart and new instruments, which are built in Europe and the U.S.A., need to be fitted into it,” adds Forero.

This 3D map will allow anyone, regardless of where they are on the Earth, to travel across the Universe and view space from a platform such as YouTube.

Currently, there are close to five hundred scientists around the world working on the DESI project, including Saul Perlmutter, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2011 for providing evidence on the expansion of the Universe, and three Uniandes alumni.

In Colombia, Colciencias and the European Union finance work on the DESI project. Internationally, there are more than thirty countries and fifty institutions working on the project including the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the United States.

“My specific role in the DESI project is working with the project simulations,” states Forero.

Jaime Forero ends with a final thought, “This project is important as it is the first time that an institution in Colombia has been involved in observational cosmology work on this scale. It shows that, for international authorizations to trust us with these types of projects, researchers and students must have reached a certain level of maturity”.
 

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Universidad de los Andes announces it will be opening a Caribbean Campus

Drawing of the Universidad de los Andes Caribbean Campus in Cartagena.
Universidad de los Andes Caribbean Campus.
24/04/2018
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To celebrate Los Andes’ seventieth birthday, the university will, for the first time, open an additional campus to the one in Bogotá.

In May 2018, the Universidad de los Andes will begin activities by offering a variety of academic subjects in its Caribbean Campus located in Cartagena de Indias.

The Caribbean Campus will, to begin with, offer 18 further education and executive curses that are aimed at different publics with diverse interests that have been created, in this first stage, by the Faculties of Business Administration, Social Sciences, and Medicine.

Areas including science, management, and health will be the first the university offers. There will be specific courses that have a low amount of contact time (eight or nine hours) as well as extensive and comprehensive programs that have a length of up to 208 hours.

The university is also considering offering corporate programs that are designed to satisfy specific education needs for employees of organizations in the region as well as immersion weeks for foreign students from universities from other countries who are interested in understanding the culture and reality of business in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The public will be informed of future postgraduate programs, postgraduate diplomas, and master’s degrees as the due processes are completed and the corresponding accreditation certificates are obtained from the Ministry of Education.

The current portfolio presents the first nine international events in which academics and business executives from different countries will participate. They will address issues including the impact women have on business, entrepreneurship in family businesses, opportunities to strengthen relationships with Europe, water resources and environmental management, and the use of quantitative models for optimization processes applied to real situations.

 
About the Caribbean Campus ​​​​​​​
This is the first time the university will offer of programs outside its main campus; the process will be dynamic and continuously updated based on new options that arise from different academic areas as well as the initiatives that are defined together with both regional and international academic allies.

The Universidad de los Andes Caribbean Campus was designed by the renowned architect Brandon Haw, and it will be part of the Serena del Mar urbanistic project located twelve kilometers from Cartagena’s historic center. It will be situated on an area of land that measures three thousand squared meters and will host classrooms, co-working zones, areas for networking, offices, healthcare services, cafés, and areas to relax and read.

“The new campus is the first to open its doors outside Bogotá, which shows our interest in strengthening the process of regionalization and internationalization – a situation that we are living”, affirms Pablo Navas, the vice-chancellor of the Universidad de los Andes.

With this step forward, the Universidad de los Andes is contributing to the development and international projection of the Caribbean region and is also responding to the regionalization process proposed in the university’s Comprehensive Development Program. This allows the institution to contribute to solving the city and region’s challenges and specific needs, such as training human capital, economic strengthening, competitiveness, and internationalization.

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