Category Archives: UNAM

Internal Symposium at CCIQS – 2016 edition

Having a symposium right after the winter holidays is a great way to get back in touch with colleagues and students; we get to hear how their work is progressing and more importantly I get forced to become focused once again after a few weeks of just not paying much attention to anything related to work.

This year our group has happily gained some additions and sadly seen some others leave in search of a better future. María Eugenia “Maru” Sandoval gave a talk on the work she did on Singlet Fission (SF) in the Fenna-Matthews-Olson (FMO) complex during a three month stay at the Basque Country University in Spain under the supervision of Dr. David Casanova. Aside her calculations regarding Förster theory and a modification to Marcus’ equation, Singlet Fission was explored by her as a possible mechanism in which the Photosynthetic complex FMO might transfer solar energy from the antennae to the reaction center; one that might explain the high efficiency of it.

SF is a fascinating phenomenon: So you get an excited state S1 for a molecule1 that has been struck with a suitable photon; this excited state can either radiate back to the ground state (S0) but if there were two degenerate and coupled triplets whose energies are similar to half the S1 energy then the excited state might decay into [TT]1, hence singlet fission. In some cases (e.g. polyacene crystals) one of these triplets might be located in an adjacent molecule, this creates a hole in a second molecule due to the same single photon! This means creating twice the current albeit at half the voltage in photovoltaic materials. Maru has explored the possibility of SF occurring in natural systems and we think we might be on to something; she will defend her masters thesis any day now and we should see a publication later on this year. After that, she is pondering a few interesting options for her PhD.

On the poster session, our lab was represented by Marycarmen Reséndiz, Gustavo Mondragón and Guillermo Caballero. Durbis Pazos just now joined our group so he didn’t have to present a poster but nevertheless showed up gladly to support his colleagues. Gustavo will work on other aspects regarding the photochemistry of the FMO complex while Marycarmen is working on calculating the electronic interactions of chemically modified nucleotides when incorporated into DNA strands. Guillermo had a poster on his calculations for another reaction mechanism that caught his eye while still working with the experimentalists. I’m pleased to say that Guillermo is close to being published and also close to leaving us in order to get a PhD in a prestigious university that shall remain unnamed.

Thank you guys for keeping up the good work and maintaining the quality of the research we do, here is to a year full of success both in and out of the lab! Any success this lab has is due to you.

Toga Party (No, not that kind) at UNAM 

Last Monday the School of Chemistry at the National Autonomous University of Mexico celebrated 50 years of their modern graduate studies program; as part of the celebrations a formal investiture ceremony for those of us who got our PhD’s after 1990 was organized.

It was a great opportunity to reconect with old friends and teachers, I even got to meet my old high school chemistry teacher, Dr. Salvador Sánchez who in no little way helped me decide to follow chemistry as a career choice, and Dr. Raymundo Cea who was my first thesis director in the first years of this century. The University Rector, Dr. José Narro, gave a speech on the challenges of chemistry in the upcoming years, and Dr. Helgi Jung-Cook spoke about the challenges a PhD student faces and how much rewarding is to finish. Much is yet to be done for the advancement of science in the world and even more in Latin America, but even so UNAM is doing a great effort of keeping a strong base of scientists available for all branches of social development by continuosly supplying the much needed human resources with the highest standards.

In all it was an emotional and inspiring ceremony but above all a fun way to look back to those days in grad school when little happened outside our labs. Thanks to my parents, my sister and my lovely wife and unborn daughter for joining us all in this celebration of Mexican chemistry. (all photo credits: My Dad.)

Internal Symposium at CCIQS – 2014 edition

Once again as every year we celebrate our internal symposium here at CCIQS, and like every year, my students presented some of their progress with their research projects. This time, three students, from three different levels, present posters regarding some of the data they’ve obtained.


María Eugenia ‘Maru’ Sandoval presented a poster regarding the molecular dynamics simulations performed for the drug Imatinb and a family of calix- and thia-calix[n]arenes as published here and reported in this blog here. ‘Maru’ is now a first year grad student at the National University, UNAM, after spending a year working for a pharmaceutical company. Her research in the realm of photosynthesis has only begun recently, that is why we had to rely on some other data.


Luis Enrique Aguilar is researching cation-π interactions within the aromatic cavities of calix[n]arenes in order to find suitable leads among these, our favorite macrocyles, for designing extraction agents of heavy (toxic) metals. Luis Enrique is an undergrad student here at the State University who should finish this year and has shown some interest (threatened us) in writing his dissertation thesis in our research group.


Monserrat Enriquez is a PhD student at CINVESTAV under the joint supervision of Dr. Eddie López-Honorato and myself (Dr. Eddie is her principal advisor), her research project involves both theoretical calculations and synthesis of the leads for extraction agents for several Arsenic species. For the time being, Monserrat is here with us, far from her home on the north side of the country, for this semester in which we have to finish with the theoretical section of her work. Besides her research concerning calixarenes she is also running calculations on the interactions between graphene oxide and the aforementioned As species. We are very excited about working with such a complex yet simple material that has such an exciting electronic structure.

This symposium is always interesting and important in bringing our research projects closer to all the comunity of this center. And since symposium comes from the Greek meaning ‘drinking together‘, then lets raise our glasses and toast for the data to come!



CONACyT funding was approved!

A couple of months ago, maybe a little bit more, I got the news that the project I submitted to the National Council for Science and Technology (CONACyT) was approved! Now we only have to wait for the money to actually show up and that might take a while – a long while! Nevertheless this is always very good news and we are very excited about it because this means more money for research, specifically on the electronic molecular pathways of photosynthesis.

When I submitted the project I wrote a little post about the funding scheme which seemed, if not unfair, at least flawed, and I still believe in what I wrote. To be honest I thought it wouldn’t be funded but it turns out it was but I still think the reviewing process could be better.

There is a lot of research to do – too little time to do it.

Institute of Chemistry Library flood – UNAM

If a mind is a terrible thing to waste, then wasting a collective mind is an even more terrible thing. During the past weekend the library at the institute of chemistry suffered a flood caused by a broken pipe just above it, which incidentally happens to be the lab were I used to work as an undergrad student. When it comes to scientific journals, our institute still relies a lot on paper issues for the oldest numbers; we can order them online but it’s just easier to Xerox it at the library if you really need to read that old reference.

This morning the librarians were appalled when noticed not only the huge puddle on the floor but all the books and scientific journals that were dripping water from the shelves. The broken pipe has been fixed and the water on the floor has been mopped. It is now the books the ones that suffer the aftermath of this accident. Not only saving the information was important; wet paper is a great culture media for fungi which in turn could pose a health threat to all users. The administrative staff immediately got to work in recruiting academics and students to help the drying process: “Heal a book!“, they informally called it. Everyone grabbed an item and with the help of industrial blow dryers – the kind we use in chemistry labs to dry wet glassware – and an extraordinary amount of paper towels, each person got to dry the journals page by page.

I got an item that corresponded to the British journal New Scientist, which consisted of about fifteen issues from the year 1980. When I noticed the title in my hand I wanted to switch it. Should we save first those journals with the highest impact factor? or should we work on those that are most relevant to our own research? Should we throw away Chemical Abstracts now that the whole database is online? After all, New Scientist is a magazine which summarizes research that has already been peer reviewed and published; it is journalistic work, not peer reviewed science. But I was afraid to look pedantic so I got to work on drying it.

Kudos to the library staff on organizing in promptu “Heal a book!”

Students as well as the academic and administrative staff drying journals

Each person had their own technique. Some journals had their binding covers still in good shape so they were placed open standing on the floor in front of fans. Some placed paper towels carefully between pages and after a while they would remove them and then use the blow dryer. I thought that if I heated the edges of the paper and thus dried them, capillarity would drive the moisture in the innermost part of each page outwards. Didn’t quite work, at least not in a pragmatic time scale, so I went back to page by page.

I’m glad I did so. That way I was able to find some real pieces of history which could make any scientist nostalgic. For example: I took these photos with my iPod, and if you are by any chance reading this piece on an iPhone, you must find the following  picture about Swedish research endearing.

An ancient iPad or an edgy ‘Etch-a-Sketch‘?

Yes, online doodling games were already a thought back in 1980!

Are you subscribed to this blog? That means you got a notification by e-mail. So what? No big deal! Well, back in 1980 Britain was getting excited over a new form of comunication called the ‘Electronic Mail’ (available only at a couple of post offices). Besides, you wouldn’t have been able to get that message nor read this post on an HP Matrix Machine (you can’t even find a decent link in google about it nowadays!)

But scientists are not all about working, we like games too! So how about purchasing a ‘Hungarian Magic Cube‘ or a ‘Chess Computer‘?

An 80’s sensation!


We also love a juicy piece of gossip. For instance, did you know that John Maddox was a controversial editor for Nature back in the 70’s who, as a student, went into chemistry because if he’d gone into physics he could’ve been drafted by the army in WWII to work on radars? Well me neither. But it seems that we should have known who he was, and now we do.

Sir John Maddox

There were many pieces of science news that nearly kept me in the library all night, if not for the fact that I had to drive 50 miles from Mexico City to my place in Toluca, but the one that captured my attention more than any other was the news of a European dream envisioned more than three decades ago; a dream from a group of scientists about looking for answers, like any other group of scientists, answers that are fundamental for the understanding of our universe and the understanding of matter, back when some of the biggest questions hadn’t even been fully posed, this group of visionaries agreed on taking the necessary steps to build an enormous subatomic-particle Supercollider for the European Center for Nuclear Research, better known as CERN.

The announcement of grand things to come

Back in 1980 I was already alive but I was only two years old. I could barely talk and had no idea what the word ‘future‘ meant, let alone what I’d become when it reached me. Now, even if I’m not a particle physicist I get excited about the news regarding the finding of the Higgs Boson and even if I’m not an astronomer I also get excited about pictures from the Curiosity Rover on Mars. I am a scientist. One out of hundreds of thousands or perhaps even millions, and this is part of my collective memory, the memory of the work of those who paved the road for us, those giants upon whose shoulders we struggle day by day to stand with dignity and against all odds. But here is the thing: those giants are actually made of dwarfs, millions of them; millions of us. Thousands and thousands of papers written, reviewed and published; papers that collectively gather the scientific experience summed up in rigorous experiments both successful and failed.

Preserving the information in those wet journals is important despite the fact you can get them all online. I hope one day a bored chemistry grad student goes to the library and browses old issues of New Scientist and other journals just for fun; they’ll go for a trip down a collective Memory Lane which will remind them that if they can dream it in the present, they can make it come true in the future.

www.CCIQS; The (not-quite) official website

The Joint Center for Sustainable Chemistry Research (Centro Conjunto de Investigación en Química Sustentable) was born in 2008 as a project between the Institute of Chemistry from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the Chemistry School from the Mexico State Autonomous University aimed to the development of research in green and sustainable chemistry as well as that of human resources trained in the same areas.

I have found through the statistics page in this blog that CCIQS is a somewhat popular search term but unfortunately there is still no website available due to some technical dificulties. Therefore I here upload the link to our proto-website (only Spanish for the time being, sorry)

I hope this helps people find some info about what we do and how to get in touch with us. Opportunities for scholarships are available both for graduate and undergraduate students. If you are interested in working with us, please get in touch with the researcher of your choice and ask for any available positions; we look forward to having more students to interact with!

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