Ollanta Humala, the president of Peru, visited the MIT campus on Wednesday, meeting with MIT President L. Rafael Reif, faculty members and students. Humala was accompanied by a delegation that included Peruvian ministers of education, defense, foreign relations, and foreign commerce and tourism, as well as the U.S. ambassador to Peru.
The visit to MIT rounded out a three-day tour for Humala that also included meetings with President Barack Obama in Washington and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick in Boston. The visit was Humala’s first official trip to the United States since his election as Peru’s president in 2011.
During the 90-minute visit, held at the Media Lab, Reif warmly welcomed Humala, speaking to the delegation in his native Spanish.
“We have followed your commitment to science and technology,” Reif told Humala. “Hearing that another country is like-minded … this is music to my ears.”
“Working on the world’s biggest problems entails working with others,” Reif added. “We would like to seize this opportunity with Peru.”
Representatives of Peru and MIT then assembled for a ceremony in which a letter of intent was signed by María Gisella Orjeda Fernández, president of the Science, Technology and Technological Innovation National Council of Peru (CONCYTEC), and MIT Vice President Claude Canizares, the Bruno B. Rossi Distinguished Professor of Experimental Physics. The letter establishes a “mutually beneficial collaboration” in the areas of education and research.
‘We want to bet on education’
“This is an issue that will change our countries,” Humala observed after the signing. “Peru has bet on gold, and it has bet on oil. … Today, we want to bet on education.”
Humala stressed the need for more educational opportunities for Peruvian students as a means of addressing poverty in his nation. “It is the moral obligation of any government to provide opportunities to our youth,” Humala said through a translator. “We want to bequeath [opportunities] to our youth.”
For Latin Americans, Humala observed, learning a second language is essential to educational advancement. Compared to many other nations, “We have a language barrier, because when we cross borders, we still speak Spanish.”
Several faculty members gave Humala brief presentations on their research. Daniela Rus, professor of computer science and engineering and director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), spoke of a common interest among the lab’s students, many who come from various backgrounds.
“At CSAIL, we all speak the language of computers, so there is no language barrier,” Rus said. “Our lab is really a melting pot; there are many Spanish-speaking students. [Peruvian students] will feel very comfortable here.”
Tyler Jacks, the David H. Koch Professor of Biology and director of the MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, spoke of his lab’s work to improve cancer treatment. Among other projects, Jacks and his colleagues are developing new methods to target drugs directly to cancer cells, in an attempt to avoid unwanted side effects. Humala, in turn, spoke of the research efforts by Peru’s national cancer institute, adding, “We would like to extend a bridge to you.”
President meets Peruvians at MIT
Barton Zwiebach, professor of physics, spoke of his work in superstring theory. “Every particle is an infinitesimal string, vibrating,” he explained to the delegation.
Zwiebach, who was born and raised in Peru, obtained a degree in electrical engineering from Peru’s Universidad Nacional de Ingeniera. “Every time I’m identified as Peruvian, I speak with pride,” Zwiebach said.
During his visit, Humala also met briefly with Peruvian students and alumni at MIT, offering them congratulations.
“He’s very proud of us because we are here,” said Sandra Torres, who last week received an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. “There are many projects in my country, so it would be a great opportunity to collaborate. There are many things that connect me with my country.”
Claudio Di Leo, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, said Humala’s visit is a promising step toward improving his native country’s economy.
“I think the way to bring the country forward is to educate the people and raise the level of education, and bringing people to MIT is a great way to do that,” Di Leo said. “I think it would be interesting to go back and bring some of these ideas of technology and learning back to our country.”
Sampling some MIT innovations firsthand, Humala and his delegation toured the Media Lab, and explored the Tangible Media Group. There, Hiroshi Ishii, the Jerome B. Wiesner Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, demonstrated a few interactive projects, including a display of shape-shifting “digital” sand.
To commemorate the visit, Humala presented Reif with a silver frame — a token of Peru’s long history in silverwork. In return, Reif presented Humala with a gift of two books: a signed copy of Instiute Professor and Professor of Linguistics Emeritus Noam Chomsky’s “Interventions,” in Spanish, and “Countless Connecting Threads: MIT’s History Revealed through Its Most Evocative Objects.”
The visit was coordinated by MIT’s Global Initiatives.