Monthly Archives: June 2014
Just as last year, the “Dolphin Summer Internship Program” (Programa Delfín) has started and this time it coincided with #RealTimeChem week. Four students from various cities (and accents) around Mexico have come to our lab in Toluca in order to spend about 7 weeks of research in the field of molecular modeling and within our research of molecular recognition in biochemistry. Karen, Cynthia, Jesús and Marco have started their training today as they arrived to CCIQS so we went over the (very) basics of quantum chemistry, the (very) basics of Linux and the basics of Gaussian09. (I should really think about developing some web tutorials or something because this impromptu training is very exhausting!)
Their academic backgrounds are mostly centered around pharmaceutics and biochemistry although their ages range from the second to the fourth year of college education. Computational chemistry is pretty unknown to all of them; I’ll do my best to change that, while at the same time I make them aware of its power as a research tool and as a research field in itself.
Here is to a very productive summer! I hope we manage to get enough data for a paper and, more importantly, that they all get a good experience out of their time here, make new friends and learn something new that enriches their skills in this increasingly competitive world.
A couple of weeks ago I was invited to give a talk to a small university in southern Mexico called ‘Universidad de la Cañada‘ in the state of Oaxaca, one of the most underprivileged states in our nation. This institution is a rather small one but the work they are doing over there with as little resources as they have is truly remarkable . UNCA offers degrees in pharmacy, pharmacology, food sciences, clinical chemistry and other topics that aim to supply the needed human resources for the various industries that are settled in the region. There is a true feeling of togetherness at UNCA since they have little pieces of equipment yet they are all fully shared among researchers regardless of who received the finance to acquire them. Last year, two of their students came for a two months stay, after which, Alberto and Eduardo got their names on a publication of our research group. It was nice to see them again and even nicer to learn they are about to finish their studies and that they will come back again to our lab in late July.
Every year at UNCA there is a Pharmacology Day on which the students show the results to their research projects during a poster session and listen to lectures by guest speakers from various universities around Mexico. Most of their projects were aimed to the isolation of natural products from local resources and their usage in several kinds of consumer products. UNCA is in a very small town, village I might say, surrounded by mountains and vegetation; the view was spectacular as you may see from the pictures below. Thank you very much to my good friend Dr. Carmen Hernández-Galindo for inviting me to participate and share our work with their students, I hope we may go back again and keep a fruitful exchange between our groups.
During this talk, I took the opportunity to talk about the aforementioned paper in the context of molecular recognition and their in silico design but I think I should have talked more about the computational strategies that are most employed in the pharmaceutical industry. Never mind. I hope I get the opportunity to right this wrong. Still it was nice to give Alberto and Eduardo the opportunity to brag a little about being published authors.
Kudos to Rola Aburto, Dr. Margarita Bernabé, Dr. Rocío Rosas, and all the academic staff at UNCA for their invaluable dedication to teaching science against all odds, I can testify, through the hard work of their students, hat their effort is paying off.
So the World Cup is once again on top of us. I’m not a Football (Soccer) enthusiast but I’ve got to admit that the expectation of such a large and widely covered event is pretty contagious. This year, however, I’m very excited about the inaugural kick-off ceremony because a paraplegic teen will be the one to set the ball in motion, thanks to the use of an exoskeleton developed by the illustrious Brazilian researcher, Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, this patient will not only walk again but also perform a feat of equilibrium: kicking a football. More impressive than the exoskeleton itself is the brain-computer-machine interface since the patient will control the entire process by himself. Miguel Nicolelis is widely known and highly regarded in the scientific community; I’m not sure if he is that famous outside academia, but if he isn’t, he should be. The natural question about Dr. Nicolelis is what is he? Is he a robotics engineer? a neurologist? a programmer? a physician? The answer could be no other than ‘all of the above‘.
And even more impressive than all that, if that’s even possible, is the fact that this huge achievement of technology is presented at one of the most viewed sporting events on the planet. Brazilian organizers could have selected many things to kick-off this event: From Adriana Lima to Pelé; from a Samba line to aboriginal Amazonian people, but instead they chose to go with a scientific and technological breakthrough achieved by one of their own. I wonder if this is a way to tell the world they are interested in investing in science and technology as a way to pave the way of their economical and social development. Brazil is currently regarded as a fast growing nation economically although the social disparity seems to be still quite large. The message I’m getting, at least in principle, is that Brazil is a modern nation with high regard for scientific development on which they will rely their future.
Kudos to the Brazilian organizers who thought of placing this large scientific breakthrough in a sporting event, proving that this world should become boundless and the way to do it is through science.
On Friday May 30th, my good friend Dr. Josefina Aldeco, my wife and I, visited a children’s home in Querétaro (central Mexico) and brought them a few cool chemistry experiments for a short show. This event was promoted by a non-profit organization called “Anímate a estudiar” (Dare to study), namely by Mrs. Paulina Milanés who is always looking for ways to encourage kids from poor backgrounds to pursue their goals through study; among other things, they provide backpacks with school supplies to orphan kids like the girls we visited.
As a way to inspire them, we handed each girl a balloon drawn in the shape of a brain and asked them to inflate them daily by reading; by doing their homework; by asking questions all the time; by working hard in pursuit of a brighter future for which their brains are the most powerful muscles.
Many reactions took place that Friday; not only inside the flasks and beakers before our little audience but also in their faces and their engagement with us. Little by little these girls got out of their shells and became more excited, up to the point of performing their own chemical reaction themselves by polymerizing some glue with borax in hot water. This was for sure the first time they got in contact with chemistry but the true goal was to set up a spark in their minds that one day may turn into a life opportunity. We are aware that one small chemistry show can’t really have that effect, but if many more scientists reach out to these kids there is a bigger chance of creating a ripple effect that convince disenfranchised children that studying is the way to take the wheel of their own future.
Science is about development; its about spreading knowledge and the love for knowledge. Although we most times sit high on our ivory towers it is paramount to remember that there is also a social component to the scientific activity. Kids are eager to learn, but most school systems do their very best to limit their curiosity and ambition. We hope these girls find in studying a way to a better, happier and safer future. Mexico has a large economic disparity; climbing the social ladder is very hard and even more so for women which makes these girls a very vulnerable social group in the next generation.
It only takes one day. One day and some potassium iodide; some mentos on a diet-coke (sorry, Gina, for the squirt!); some cobalt chloride on paper; some balloons some glue and some borax in hot water. But above all it takes a big commitment.
I hope you readers, computational and experimental chemists alike, take some time out of your busy schedules and share your passion for science with kids, specially those with the lowest opportunities of getting in touch with real scientists. You can also contribute to this noble effort by making a small pay-pal donation to www.animateaestudiar.org or to any other similar organization in your local community.
It only takes one day.
P.S. Thanks to Josefina from Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro for providing material and reagents. Please go and check out her blogs (here and here) and encourage her to write more often! (Did I mention she published in Science a few years ago?)