On a trip to Mexico, the CNRS office takes part in the opening of a CEMCA exhibition and meets the Mexican coordinators of two CNRS IRP

Visit to UNAM’s agrivoltaic station in Topilejo, south of Mexico City
© Erell Gloaguen/CNRS

The CNRS office in Washington D.C., responsible for the United States and Mexico, visited Mexico City from Monday April 29 to Saturday May 4. The program for this mission included attending the opening of an exhibition by the Center for Mexican and Central American Studies (Centre d’études mexicaines et centraméricaines – CEMCA), taking part in workshops organized by the strategic orientation council of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in Mexico, and meeting Mexican coordinators of two CNRS’s International Research Projects.

Opening of CEMCA exhibition on the Río Bec at the National Museum of Anthropology

Maya Collombon, Director of the CEMCA, inaugurates the exhibition on the Rio Bec Maya site in front of Delphine Borione, Ambassador of France to Mexico, Antonio Saborit, Director of the National Museum of Anthropology and Dominique Michelet, archaeologist
© Erell Gloaguen/CNRS

On Friday May 3, the CNRS office attended the opening of an exhibition on the Río Bec Maya site organized by the Center for Mexican and Central American Studies (Centre d’études mexicaines et centraméricaines – CEMCA), a joint unit of the French Research Institutes Abroad (UMIFRE) co-supervised by the CNRS and the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs.

The CEMCA, directed by Maya Collombon, Senior Lecturer in Political Science at Sciences Po Lyon, is a research center specializing in the humanities and social sciences, particularly anthropology, history, archaeology and sociology. CEMCA is also coordinating a CNRS International Research Project entitled FiG-ArO, alongside partners in France (Institut Français d’Études Andines and Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne) and Mexico (the Fray Bernardo Padilla community museum in Chupicuaro, the La Alhondiga regional museum in Granaditas, the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the National Museum of Anthropology).

The temporary exhibition runs at the National Museum of Anthropology until July 28, 2024. One of the most important in Latin America, the National Museum of Anthropology covers 44,000 m² of exhibition space and is expected to welcome 2.6 million visitors in 2023. The museum houses artifacts and archaeological legacies from the pre-Hispanic civilizations of Mexico and Mesoamerica, and also represents the country’s current ethnic diversity. At its inauguration in 1964, André Malraux described the museum as “the most beautiful in the world” for the quality of its collections and the grandeur of its architecture.

The exhibition focuses on discoveries made at Río Bec, a Maya archaeological site located in the south of the Mexican state of Campeche, close to the neighboring state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatán peninsula. The site was excavated by archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, as well as by scientists from the CNRS, who revealed several architectural ensembles – unique in style among the Maya sites recorded in the region – and spread out over several kilometers. These archaeological remains and the artefacts they contain bear precious witness to the way of life and customs of the Mayan peoples who lived alongside them.

Participation in the Strategic Orientation Council of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in Mexico

On Thursday May 2 and Friday May 3, the CNRS office took part in the biannual strategic orientation meeting of the Cultral Services of the French embassy in Mexico.

This working meeting enables the Cultural Services to define its strategic priorities in the cultural and scientific fields. Among the workshops on offer, the CNRS office was invited to take part in a working group on Franco-Mexican scientific cooperation, dedicated to biodiversity and ocean-related issues in the run-up to the next United Nations Ocean Conference in Nice (France) in June 2025. For the CNRS, this workshop was an opportunity to present its new role as pilot of the “Climate, Biodiversity, Sustainable Societies” program agency, which enables it to define a French scientific strategy in these fields and to lead research communities at national level. The role of the CNRS in ocean research and preservation was also highlighted, through the work carried out within various Priority Research Programs and Infrastructure (PEPR) and particularly the “Océan Climat” Priority Research Program, co-directed by the CNRS and Ifremer, which structures research by building or consolidating French leadership in this field. The CNRS office also presented the International Panel for Ocean Sustainability (IPOS) multilateral platform, established in 2022 and involving experts, scientists, civil society and other stakeholders.

During these two days of work, the CNRS office took part in workshops on university cooperation and cooperation in the field of heritage (an important area of Franco-Mexican cooperation for the CEMCA), enabling it to present the CNRS’s international tools.

Meetings with Mexican coordinators of CNRS IRP

As part of its mission to Mexico City, the CNRS visited the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), home to many Mexican coordinators of CNRS International Research Projects (IRP). UNAM is the CNRS’s leading partner in Mexico, and a partner of excellence for research in Latin America. With its 350,000 students and numerous campuses in Mexico and abroad, UNAM is the country’s largest public university and one of the world’s top 100 research universities. The CNRS has several partnerships with the university: 1 International Research Laboratory in mathematics, LaSol ; 4 IRP ; and 3 International Research Networks.

Discovering the National Scientific Laboratory for Research and Preservation of Cultural Heritage (LANCIC)

The CNRS office met José Luis Ruvalcaba Sil, coordinator of the National Scientific Laboratory for Research and Preservation of Cultural Heritage (LANCIC), located within the UNAM Institute of Physics. Dr. José Luis Ruvalcaba Sil is a member of the FiG-ArO (Figurines Chupícuaro. Corporality and domestic rituals in pre-Columbian Mexico) IRP, which brings together several research teams in France and Mexico, including the CEMCA, and aims to produce a body of knowledge on Chupícuaro figurines, emblematic objects of this important culture of ancient Mexico (between 600 BC and 250 AD).

At LANCIC, José Luis Ruvalcaba Sil coordinates the application of non-invasive methods to analyze the figurines, thus preserving their integrity. Advanced technologies, such as high-resolution and X-ray microscopy, enable detailed examination of the composition of the materials and pigments used, whatever the surface.

Facsimile of a Codex analyzed by the laboratory
© Erell Gloaguen/CNRS

The laboratory takes an interdisciplinary approach, bringing together research teams in chemistry and physics with researchers in art history (traditional and contemporary) from other laboratories, as well as historians and museum curators. In the laboratory, for example, teams are working on codexes1 dating back to 1540 and written in Nahuatl. They examine the colors and handwriting and share their findings with specialized historians. This interdisciplinary analysis enables comparisons to be made between archaeological finds from different sites, in order to understand the distribution of objects, the materials used, the year in which they were made, local traditions and rites…

What makes LANCIC so special is its high-tech, portable hardware. It is probably the only laboratory in the world with mobile capabilities, enabling it to go into any type of environment, including the most inaccessible, such as mountainsides or caves.

The BioPhysImmuno IRP, to improve understanding of fibrosis and cancer
© Erell Gloaguen/CNRS

Tatiana Fiordelisio, head of the LANSBIODYT laboratory (National Laboratory of Biomimetic Solutions for Diagnosis and Therapeutics) and professor in the Department of Comparative Neurophysiology at UNAM, then presented to the CNRS the work carried out within the BioPhysImmuno (Biophysics of the immune response during immune cell/partner cell interactions, in fibrosis and cancer) IRP, which she coordinates for the Mexican side. The IRP focuses on the cells involved in the interaction mechanisms between immune cells and their partner cells or targets. It studies the response of two cell types to mechanical information provided by the microenvironment over varying lengths of time, in order to dissect the role of the latter, particularly in the case of fibrosis (pulmonary and hepatic fibrosis), important pathologies in Mexico. The IRP also has a therapeutic aspect, in that it seeks to integrate these complex stimuli into the design of therapeutic choices, whether molecular or cellular.

In particular, the laboratory has created a physical model to understand why cancer cells can avoid the immune system: this is a natural killer cell migration chip, which recreates the cells’ microenvironment. The chip makes it possible to observe the activation and transmigration of natural killer cells, visualizing the migration of natural killer cells and cancer cells from one side to the other.

The laboratory also has a Micro and Nano Manufacturing Unit, where medical solutions are produced. These include chip molds for pancreatic ischia, bioreactors for organoids and microvalves for glaucoma.

From local agrivoltaic stations to a dedicated national program: Mexico, a committed partner in agrivoltaic research
UNAM agrivoltaic station, located in Topilejo, south of Mexico City
© Erell Gloaguen/CNRS

Finally, the CNRS visited the UNAM Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Husbandry, which coordinates the Mexican part of the international consortium on agrivoltaics launched by the International Research Center (IRC) CNRS-UArizona for Global Grand Challenges. Agrivolatism, a technique for agricultural production and energy production by installing photovoltaic modules on top of agricultural crops, helps reconcile the objectives of the agricultural and energy transition, and reinforces the resilience of plants to climatic hazards. This initiative is supported by the CNRS and the University of Arizona as part of their joint partnership through the IRC. The research carried out as part of this initiative is intended for large-scale application and is of interest to regions of the world that are particularly vulnerable to climatic hazards. Mexico, Morocco, Kenya and Israel have already joined the initiative.

During the meeting, the University of Arizona’s representative at UNAM, José Lever, invited the CNRS office to visit the university’s agrivoltaic plot in the mountains south of Mexico City. The UNAM plot contains 24 plots of land under solar panels, and 6 outdoor plots for comparative purposes. These two environments enable us to grow plants under different conditions and observe the impact of sunlight, shade, frost and other weather phenomena on crops. Sensors are implanted in the soil of each batch to indicate soil temperature and humidity. The aim of the plot is to be totally self-sufficient in terms of agricultural production and green energy, as well as water storage and consumption.

The plot coordinators presented the CNRS office with several quantitative and qualitative studies demonstrating the benefits of agrivoltaic systems on plant growth. As part of this mountain station, UNAM has also set up partnerships with local growers, who have invaluable knowledge of local climatology and ways of growing crops at altitude. Students also benefit from this expertise.

Beyond the UNAM, Mexico at federal level is emerging as a key partner in the agrivoltaics initiative. Indeed, Mexico’s Ministry of Public Education (Secretaría de Educación Pública) is planning to set up a National Agrivoltaics Program, with the aim of encouraging pilot programs in the country’s higher education establishments, by integrating a national agrivoltaics program into Mexico’s common higher education space. The program involves pooling existing facilities at institutions in this network of higher education establishments, and encouraging them to adopt curricula related to agrivoltaics. An experiment is currently underway in the state of Sonora, where a dozen individual agrivoltaic plots provide farmers with both food and solar energy. Plots are coordinated by the Sonora Institute of Technology, in collaboration with farmers. The Mexican Ministry of Public Education has also established contacts with eight universities in the region and local communities, with the aim of involving more local players in the project.

  1. A codex is a notebook made up of handwritten pages bound together in book form. ↩︎

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