Southern University of Chile (Spanish: Universidad Austral de Chile or abbreviated as UACh) is a research university in Chile based in Valdivia although it has some institutions and careers in Puerto Montt. Founded by decree on 7 September 1954 it is one of the eight original Chilean Traditional Universities. Juridically it is a nonprofit, self-owned corporation under private law and is significantly state-financed.
UACh is one of the leading universities of Chile in matters of scientific research. It was ranked second only to the University of Chile in scientific research by El Mercurio and was the third university to receive most of government Mecesup research funds in 2008. Some of the fields where UACh scientists have made contributions include:
- Archaeology: In archeology university scientists Mario Pino and Tom Dillehay, led the excavations of at Monte Verde, one of the earliestarchaeological sites in the Americas. Another site investigated by university scientists is Chan-Chan a site that gives name to the Archaic Chan-Chan Complex.
- Virology: Researchers from the Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Science led a series of joint medical, viral and zoological research on the transmittance of Hantavirus between rodents and humans. Hantavirus was first detected in Chile in 1995 but is believed to have been present much time before. According to Dr. Luis Zaror the most important UACh discovery regarding antavirus was made in 2005 when Hanta antigens were found on the salivary glands of deceased persons. UACh academics working at the Laboratory of Virology had contributed to diminish a the initial mortality of Pulmonar Hantavirus with 60% in Los Ríos Region below the national average of 37%.
- Dendrochronology: Scientists at the Dendrochronology Laboratory of UACh has set up the longest dentrochronology in the Southern Hemisphere going back 5666 years. Researchers have also reconstructed the temperatures of the las 3622 years with tree rings from Fitzroya and have used a dendrochronology network of Lenga Beech, spaning from Talca to Navarino Island, to investigate global warming in the recent decades.
- Mapudungun language: UACh is one of the main sites of Mapudungun language studies and teaching. This is partly due to Professor María Catrileo Chiguailaf who received in 2009 the Provincial Prize for Conservation of National Monuments for her studies. Catrileo’s work has focused on thephonology and morpho-syntax of the Mapudungun language and specially the verb forms. María Catrileo is considered to be perhaps the only living Mapuche Indian to master Spanish, English and Mapudungun.
- Palaeontology: Palaeontological studies at Southern Chile have involved several UACh academics among them geoarchaeologist Mario Pino who participated at the excavation of the Quaternary fossil site of Pilauco in Osorno where the remains of a Gomphotherium were discovered. Two other Gomphoteruim fossil sites in Los Ríos Region are planned to be excavated by university scientists in the future.
With the arrival of Centro de Estudios Científicos (CECS) to Valdivia in 2000 the city was further outlined as a research center, as CECS brought expertise on biophysics, molecular physiology, theoretical physics, glaciology and climate change to the city. The arrival of CECS was seen as positive by UACh’s administration since CECS research do not overlap UACh’s main research areas and, as a scientific research corporation, do not compete in student enrollment. However, in 2007 UACh and CECS got involved in a controversy when the Regional Council of Los Lagos Region granted regional funds that had been put into tender to CECS without attending to the meeting where UACh’s and University of Los Lagos joint project was presented. Deputy Gabriel Ascencio (DC) accused Claudio Bunster, director of CECS, of using his personal influence among politicians and the Council of Innovation for Competitiveness (of which he is member of) to gain more resources.
On Monday 3 December 2007 the Emilio Pugín building of the Faculty of Sciences caught fire. The building, located on Teja island Campus housed considerable amounts of chemicals and scientific equipment which could not be saved. Several research projects had to be halted or aborted due to loss of equipment, samples and data. Due to the spreading of toxic smoke the police had to evacuate a total of 10,000 people from Isla Teja. Firefighting companies from the neighboring cities of Osorno, La Unión and Paillaco had to come to assist to control and extinguish the fire. The building hosted the institutes of chemistry, physics, zoology, microbiology and botanics, including some laboratories. The cost of the damage was estimated at about 5000 million Chilean pesos (about 10 million US dollars). Finally, 22% of the damage were not covered by the according insurances, but directly financed by the Chilean government. As of May 2010, the building still is a burnt-out ruin.
On May 13 of 2008 the student federation of UACh decided to go on strike since they considered that a request list sent to the university administration was answered in too loose terms. The strike and occupation of the university by students ended in late June when the rector Victor Cubillos and the directory ceded on several points but was however still heavily criticized both from students and from sectors of the faculty where they considered that he had ceded too much to students. On April 2010 the reconstruction of the Emilio Pugin building of the Sciencie Faculty, started the competitive bidding. And in this year it would start the reconstruction. Also in the Academic Rector election of the 2010, only the current Academic Rector Víctor Cubillos presented for candidate. This would be his second term as Academic Rector of the UACh, without chance for a 3rd term in a row.