Conrado F. Varotto: Pre-INVAP
As a CONICET scholar, Conrado F. Varotto spent two years as a research associate in the Department of Materials Science, Stanford University, California, USA from 1968 to 1970. When he returned to Argentina in 1970, the Silicon Valley companies in California had inspired him greatly, so he worked as a CNEA researcher in Buenos Aires, formed and directed the Department of Applied Research at the Balseiro Atomic Center from 1971 to 1976 with the goal of "solving practical problems," and he received overwhelming support from the then CNEA executives.
FROM BIRTH TO STANFORD
Conrado F. Varotto was born on August 13, 1941, in Brugine, Padova province, Italy during the Second World War. When he was nine years old, he moved to Argentina with his parents to flee armed conflict in Italy. His family chose Argentina because it was a country that promised opportunities to study and work. Varotto got a scholarship to study at the College of Salvador, and at the age of 15, he enrolled into the University of Buenos Aires in the Faculty of Exact Sciences where his career as a physicist began. It is his Belgian physics teacher who inspired him and made him fall in love with physics.
In 1959, he won a scholarship to study at the Institute of Physics of Bariloche (modern-day Balseiro Institute) and graduated with a PhD. in Physics. At the Balseiro Institute, Varotto obtained two CNEA scholarships from 1959 to 1962 and 1963. In 1968, he got a CONICET scholarship to Stanford, where he spent two years as a research associate for the Department of Materials Science. He also engaged in consulting work for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the International Development Research Center of Canada and at companies. At Stanford, Varotto started searching for the link between science and industry, which would later inspire him to start INVAP. During his professional engagement at Stanford, the existing culture in Argentina's academic institutions did not support academic research or its commercialization.
Conrado F. Varotto returned to Argentina in 1970, having obtained his post-doctorate at Stanford University in the United States and being inspired by Silicon Valley companies in California. In 1970, he worked as CNEA researcher based in Buenos Aires. When he returned to Bariloche, he formed the Department of Applied Research. After some time, he was confronted with the fact that a state agency was not the right entity to sell technology, so the idea of creating a company to sell technology was conceived in 1974.
He was the primary coordinator of the Applied Research Program of the Balseiro Atomic Center from 1971 to 1976, where his goal was to solve practical problems. During this time, Varotto met people like Sábato, Castro Madero (from the then Atomic Energy Commission) that helped him create INVAP in 1976.
According to Varotto, the original founding group of INVAP consisted of seven to eight members, most of whom were graduates from Balseiro. Their original idea was to connect the university and industry, leveraging the capacity that already existed in the National Atomic Energy Commission, to form a company that would produce things that people will be willing to pay for. The idea was wholly supported by First Admiral Pedro Iraolagoitía, president of CNEA, and also his successor, Castro Madero. Finally, on September 1, 1976, INVAP was formed, under the agreement between the then governor of Río Negro, Mario Franco, and the CONEA authorities.
QUOTES THAT GUIDED VAROTTO IN CREATING INVAP
- "The most important raw material that Argentina has is the gray matter."
- "In my doctoral thesis, I say that I thank my parents for bringing me to an extraordinary country, for the future and hope that gave me everything, and I intend to give them the same or more opportunities to all of them. Now that I am going to have a little more I will be able to go back to the crazy ideas in the laboratory since I will continue to work with honorable people related to those wonderful children that Argentina has in the different areas I have traveled, but I am going to dedicate more time to the family"
- "I was impressed to see how science could interact with real life on a university campus."
- "I see Argentina's spatial and scientific future very well, and our society knows today that developing countries do it with knowledge." To the three pillars of development that are land, work, capital, now there is to add knowledge."
- "It was the Jesuits of the Salvador school who got me the love for the exact sciences, particularly for Physics."
- "Stanford marked my way of seeing the linkage between science and industry."
- "It may have seemed utopian when thirty years ago a group of young idealists, some particularly imbued with the social doctrine of the Church, set out to take advantage of the country's main resource, its gray matter, for the generation of genuine sources of work in the province of Río Negro."