Category Archives: Teaching

5th Mexican Science and Engineering Fair

Last spring I was invited by The State Council for Science and Technology (COMECyT) to be part of the jury in the 5th Mexican Science and Engineering Fair and now we just had the finals here in Toluca.

For the first part of this competition several projects were evaluated in their originality and relevance as well as their feasibility. The ones that were accepted were later on reevaluated in their progress and now for the actual fair, students from all across the state came to show their results. The scope of the projects I had to evaluate dealt with the use of natural resources indigenous to their local surroundings as starting materials with different applications.

Among the ones that were exhibited today there was a project dealing with substituting wood for cactus in agglomerates. This is a great idea considering the ubiquity of cactus in Mexico and the little attention that is paid to their logs. In another booth, some piezoelectric devices are being plugged together under a sort of mat which will be stepped on by pedestrians generating electricity from their weight, taking advantage thus of their kinetic energy. Once again, on cactae, another team wants to use the resin that comes out of the raw plant as a co-polymerizing agent. I could go on and on about the projects but please visit this link to learn more about it. Below, I share with you some pictures I took from the fair.

Today’s event was attended by the local scientific authorities and by the State Governor Dr. Eruviel Ávila, who in his speech talked about the importance of science and technology development not only in this but in all nation’s states.

Kudos to the local Council for Science and Technology for promoting these events and thanks for including me as part of them.

“The Learn’d Astronomer” by Walt Whitman (ca. 1900)

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

-Walt Whitman-

Science and awe go hand in hand. The more we learn; the more we know, the more in awe we grow. To learn is to discover, and to discover is to be reborn; for the fact of stumbling upon something new refreshes our capacity of being surprised and amazed like when we were little kids. This year is the International Year of Chemistry, so it is a perfect time for telling people who are not scientists to regard science as the human activity of the “awe”. Nowadays, and in some regards, it requires to be a “learn’d scientist” in order to be awed by a new discovery, but every single living scientist on the planet today was once awed, whether by nature or by a passionate teacher in a classroom. So let us remember what it was like to be awed and lets all look at nature with youthful eyes willing to unravel its secrets instead of taking them for granted.

In order to be a learned astronomer one must first gaze at the stars in awe and wonder…

2011, International Year of Chemistry

2011, The International Year of Chemistry (IYC 2011)

IYC 2011In April 2006, during a IUPAC Executive Committee meeting, the idea for an international year of was first discussed. From that meeting a IUPAC committee was appointed to work along with UNESCO in the creation of the event and finally during 2008, the year 2011 was officially designated the International Year of Chemistry (IYC 2011); additionally 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize awarded to Madame Marie Curie so the IYC 2011 will also be devoted to celebrate the contributions of women to science in general and not only to chemistry. Furthermore, 2011 is also the 100th anniversary of the founding of the International Association of Chemical Societies so the benefits of international scientific cooperation will also be highlighted.

The International Year of Chemistry represents a great opportunity to celebrate, highlight and raise awareness about the extraordinary achievements of chemistry and how it has mold the way we live. The IYC 2011 motto is “Chemistry- Our life, our future”. To me this motto reflects how chemistry will help to solve the current problems our planet is going through (from global warming to alternative energy sources); I work at a research center that is ultimately supposed to be devoted to research in sustainable chemistry, so the appeal is huge! The main goal of the IYC 2011 is to increase the public appreciation of chemistry by reaching out for the general public (in the end, us chemists are already interested in chemistry) in a wide variety of activities that will range from conferences to hands-on experiments and other forms of interactive performances for people of all ages. Everyone can get actively involved by just visiting the official website (see below)

We live in times where science surrounds us yet people fear it, distrust it, argues it without foundations, school boards in first world countries dare to promote religious-like factoids in education. It is our duty as scientists to raise awareness about the importance of chemistry to the technological and cultural advancement of the human race, at least so next time some TV ad announces a chemicals-free product people raise their eyebrows.

Like every well respected institution around the world, here at UNAM we are organizing a series of events directed to celebrate the International Year of Chemistry. I’m already trying to organize a visit for some of the most brilliant people I had the pleasure and honor to meet and work with at Babes-Bolyai in Romania, hopefully we’ll build some academic bridges between our two institutions. Also a series of books on different aspects of chemistry (from the very scientific to the more philosophical kind) will be published by our university.

I encourage you to promote the events in your local scientific community, but also to raise awareness within your non-scientist friends. I will sign all my emails, twits, blog posts and Facebook updates with something like ‘2011, International Year of Chemistry’. What about you? Chemists of the world: Get involved!

Thanks for reading!

2011, International Year of Chemistry

Teaching QSAR and QSPR at UAEMex

Teaching has never been my cup of  tea. Karl Friederich Gauss said “Good students do not need a teacher and bad students, well, why do they want one?” I once read this quote somewhere, and although I don’t know if he actually said it or not, there is some truth to it. It is known that Gauss didn’t like teaching, still spent most of his life doing it. Anyway, teaching is important and it has to be done!

Therefore as part of my duties as researcher at CCIQS I will have to teach a class at the Faculty of Chemistry of the Mexico State’s Autonomous University (UAEMex). Obviously they want you to teach a class on a subject you are an expert on; I could teach organic chemistry for sure, despite the fact that I haven’t touched a flask in years. My colleague, Dr. Fernando Cortés-Guzmán and I seem to be two of the very few theoretical chemists around so it is up to us to teach all classes within the range of theoretical chemistry, computational chemistry and their applications. This year someone, I still need to find out who, came up with the idea that an interesting application would be QSAR which of course is a very relevant model for drug discovery. Thus, starting today, I will be the first teacher of this subject at UAEMex’s Chemistry Faculty. Although to be quite frank, I think I would have felt better teaching calculus or differential equations, since those already have a syllabus. On the other hand, those subject wouldn’t get me in touch with students in their final years who are the ones to be attracted as potential students for my incipient research group. It has been interesting so far, building the syllabus from scratch; finding all the topics that are worth covering in a semester as well as a proper way to illustrate and teach them. It will be a work in progress all the time and I intend to expand it somehow beyond the classroom; my first thought was to record all the lessons for a podcast. I’m still not sure how to include this blog into the equation or if I should open a new one for the class but I guess I’ll figure it out along the way. I’m not an expert on QSAR or QSPR but I know a good deal about it, mostly because of Dr. Dragos Horvath whom I met in Romania years ago. Perhaps I could persuade him of leaving Strasbourg for a couple of weeks and giving a few lectures.

Wish me luck, or maybe I should say: “wish my students luck”!

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