For over twenty years, there has been an ongoing scientific collaboration between the Institute of Chemistry of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the Faculty of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering of the Babes-Bolyai University located in the city of Cluj-Napoca, Romania. It all began back in the early nineteen nineties when Professor Lara, then director of Instituto de Química, extended an invitation to Professor Ionel Haiduc, who at the time served as Vice President of the Romanian Academy, to spend a few months in Mexico for a research stay. Later on prof. Dr. Ioan Silaghi-Dumitrescu and his wife paid a couple of visits to our institution also during the nineties; their last visit together occurred in 2002 when prof. Ioan Silaghi-Dumitrescu was asked to teach a small course on molecular modelling. It was during this visit that I came to know about the Babes-Bolyai University and more importantly, it was when I met both Prof. Ioan Silaghi and his wife Prof. Luminita Silaghi, an acquaintance that shaped many aspects of my life in the years to come. Other Romanian guests came to work at IQUNAM, such as Dr. Ion Grosu, who worked as a postdoc with Prof. Roberto Martínez in the Organic Synthesis department. Prof. Cristian Silvestru also collaborated with the group of Dr. Raymundo Cea-Olivares in the field of Main Group Metal Chemistry. Prof. Raymundo Cea-Olivares has been to Cluj-Napoca a couple of times visiting the lab of the late Prof. Silaghi. I went for a research stay during my Ph. D. in 2005 and then went back to occupy a postdoctoral position in late 2008 which lasted until 2010; I also participated in the MolMod seminar in 2007 while working at a private research center, then thinking I wouldn’t go back to academia. Dr. Liviu Bolundut, a then Ph. D. student of Prof. Haiduc’s, came to work with Dr. Monica Moya also in the field of Main Group Metal Chemistry. The interaction between our two institutions has a sound history.
As part of the celebrations of this year, the International Year of Chemistry, I issued an invitation to Prof. Ionel Haiduc and Prof. Luminita Silaghi-Dumitrescu, to give a couple of lectures at IQUNAM about their current research. Fortunately, they accepted and found the time in their tight schedules to come. We were also fortunate enough to get the official approval by the corresponding committee at UNESCO of making these conferences part of the official celebrations of IYC 2011 (In fact, they were the ones who came up with the name of the event which is the name of this post as well.) The scope of this visit also included to encourage our scientific community to keep the collaborations alive with UBB. We had these conferences twice, first at CCIQS here in Toluca and also at the original facilities of IQUNAM on the main University campus in Mexico City. Both events were successful in attracting a large number of researchers but more remarkably a large number of young students who have read about their work and are aware of their reputation on their respective fields; the following picture of our guests with young students of UAEMex, serves as proof.
But I get ahead of myself, for in fact we did more than just having lectures and showing them our new facilities. During the course of their stay,which lasted a bit more than a week, Professor Cea-Olivares and I took them around to do some tourism. During their first weekend I took them to the Folkloric Ballet at the Fine Arts Palace and to the Anthropology Museum, both in Mexico City. We also went together to the Aztec ruins of the city center and the larger archaeological site of Teotihuacan, where Mrs. Iovanca Haiduc even got to climb the Sun’s Pyramid, a challenge to which I decided to pass this time. Prof. Cea-Olivares took them outside Mexico City into Cuernavaca and Taxco, the latter being an old silver mining town famous for its jewelry stores filled with Ag merchandise. We all had a great time traveling around, chatting and in general enjoying each others company.
But now back to science. Prof. Haiduc’s lecture was titled “News in Supramolecular Chemistry”, in it he talked about the basics of supramolecular chemistry as the branch of chemistry that deals with the non-covalently bonded chemical species; the chemistry of secondary interactions as defined by Allcock in 1972. A survey of the existing x-ray structures database was performed by Prof. Haiduc along with his colleague Prof. Julio Zukerman-Schpector in Brasil, in order to find some previously overlooked patterns in intermolecular arrays containing Te (II) or Te (IV) along with aromatic groups, revealed that the Te – Ar interactions through the Π electrons cloud are found more often than previously believed. The most remarkable feature of this array is the fact that the electron density in the formation of such interactions stems from the Te atom (through the stereochemically active lone pair) and into the LUMO of the aromatic moiety in the second molecule. This represents a fascinating coordination mode for Te organometallic compounds!
Prof. Luminita Silaghi-Dumitrescu talked about her research on heterotopic As ligands, some of which exhibit remarkable new coordination patterns stabilizing dinuclear complexes with late transition metals. I felt nostalgic reading the names of old friends and colleagues who collaborated in the work described.
Prof. Haiduc (who is currently President of the Romanian Academy) shared many anecdotes about his times as a PhD student at the Lomonosov Institute back in the Soviet Union under the supervision of Prof. Andrianov. From these anecdotes it is possible to extract the feeling of doing science during the Cold War period since he had to be weary of espionage, which by the way went both ways! He talked about secret research facilities and scooped papers. One could easily think that basic chemistry research would be far from the interest of high political powers who could find aeronautical research more interesting! A developed country is able to acknowledge the value of science in preserving a strategic position in the world. His old advisor, Prof. Andrianov, was considered a hero by the Soviet Party among other things for his work on Silicon based polymers which were used as lubricants in heavy machinery and vehicles during War War II. German tanks used regular carbon based oil which in the Russian winter became extremely viscous, practically became gels! while Silicon based oil could almost preserve its original viscosity at very cold temperatures.
In summary it was a great opportunity to learn from great chemists whose scientific reputations could easily overwhelm any scientist worth his salt! But it was above all things a great opportunity to meet once again dear friends from a dear country I once got to call home.
2011 – International Year of Chemistry
“Chemistry – Our life, our future”