Meeting on Scientific and Technological Cooperation Between Germany and Colombia in Bogotá

(24.05.19) On 13 and 14 May, representatives of Colombian and German institutions gathered in Bogotá for a third meeting as part of the scientific and technological cooperation between the two countries. The participants discussed topics relating to education, science and technology as well as new strategies to strengthen cooperation in these areas.

Representatives of Colombian and German institutions met in Bogotá

Representatives of Colombian and German institutions met in Bogotá


The event was chaired on the Colombian side by the Vice Minister of Higher Education in Colombia’s education ministry, Luis Fernando Pérez Pérez, and the head of funding organisation COLCIENCIAS, Diego Hernández Losada. The German delegation was led by the head of the International Cooperation section at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), Frithjof Maennel, who was accompanied by the German ambassador in Colombia, Peter Ptassek.

Representatives of BMBF and COLCIENCIAS opened the meeting by summarising the events and achievements of the past three years. In particular, they mentioned the outstanding outcome of the last meeting in 2015, which resulted in a significant increase in cooperation in strategic policy areas, scientific cooperation and public-private partnerships.

In the academic domain, participants discussed measures for cooperation extending beyond mobility and exchange, including an exploration of problems like Colombia’s brain drain and ways of addressing it.

The head of the DFG’s Latin America office, Dr. Kathrin Winkler, and other representatives of German organisations were invited to speak on future prospects for scientific cooperation with institutions in Colombia. The Colombian participants expressed particular interest in funding for innovation and research with economic and social benefits.

In this context, Winkler emphasised that – although these areas are normally associated with applied research – basic research does indeed play an important role in societally relevant issues. One example is the project funded by the DFG and COLCIENCIAS entitled ‘Humanitarian Microwave Detection of Improvised Explosive Devices in Colombia (MEDICI)’. In this project, German and Colombian researchers are working together to develop a solution to the hazards posed by landmines.

There was also a presentation of the DFG’s cooperation with Universidad de los Andes (Uniandes), through which funding is currently being provided for projects in electrical and information engineering, computer science and zoology.

In January of this year an agreement was also signed with Universidad de Antioquia (UdeA), opening up possibilities for new bilateral projects.

During the discussions, Winkler highlighted efforts to identify promising further fields of research for an expansion of German-Colombian cooperation, including that based on the cooperation and joint funding initiatives with COLCIENCIAS.

The MEDICI Project

Unconventional explosive and incendiary devices found during the project

Unconventional explosive and incendiary devices found during the project


Colombia is the only country in Latin America where land mines are still laid to this day. At least 10,253 people fell victim to this practice between 1990 and 2013. In the course of the research project carried out between 2014 and 2017, a total of 14 researchers from the University of Bochum (RUB-EST), the Technical University of Ilmenau (TUI), Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNC) and Uniandes researched the most dangerous type of these traps which still pose a threat to the public: unconventional improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Unlike conventional land mines, these devices are built with arbitrary everyday items, resulting in different working mechanisms and impeding identification and deactivation. To tackle these issues, new and high-precision methods to locate mines, regardless of their components, were researched in the MEDICI project.

Like many other international partnerships, MEDICI emerged from a workshop held in 2012. "At the time, we discussed how a project for locating land mines would be interesting from both a research perspective and a humanitarian perspective," says Dr. Christoph Baer, Project Coordinator on the German side and a member of the Academic Senate at RUB.

It is precisely this humanitarian aspect that led to intensive communication outside academia: "We need to work directly with the people who clear land mines in order build their confidence in new technologies. In light of past experience, technology transfer alone is insufficient and that is why we have also given talks at our partner universities to support the next generation of Colombian engineers in their education in this area," says Baer.

According to the German researcher, cross-cultural understanding was also promoted in the project, in addition to technological advances. "International research cooperation combines cultural aspects and calls for new ways of thinking – communicating with people from all over the world provides a perfect opportunity to put stereotypes into perspective. Our joint research leads to varied discussions and lasting relationships."

The MEDICI project was also a starting point for establishing the Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology (SIGHT) Germany Section of international engineering association IEEE, which is based at RUB. The participating researchers from Germany and Colombia are currently working on follow-up research projects and on an academic exchange programme. Baer is optimistic that the project will have a bright common future.