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Alejandro Morales Betancourt, Physics Ph.D. Student
By Lauren Moriarty

Born in Mexico City, Alejandro Morales Betancourt emigrated to Texas in 2007 with his wife and son. In Texas, Alejandro held a series of jobs–including stints as a welder, house cleaner, and overnight stocker at Wal-Mart–but he always dreamed of earning a college degree. "My family has been the main motivation and the fundamental support to my aspirations," he says.

In 2015, he was invited to join Alamo Colleges’ Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program, which eventually led to him transferring to UTSA. Alejandro majored in biomedical engineering because it allowed him to study how things work and learn how to use that knowledge to help people. He and his son did their homework together every night. During his senior year, Alejandro received an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship enabled Alejandro to attend UTSA’s Physics Ph.D. program. It also gave him the opportunity to present a scientific proposal and receive funding for his research. "In my undergrad I learned that a major limitation to study live systems is the size," Alejandro says. "In other words, it is very common to use a micro to macroscopic approach, when in reality, every single microorganism interaction is happening at the molecular or nano level. And many times, these limitations exist because there is no current technology to overcome this gap. The research that I am performing right now with the support of the NSF fellowship is related to the synthesis of novel tunable nanomaterials and their applications in the biomedical field, mainly for cancer treatment, antibacterial properties and disease detection at low concentrations."

Alejandro plans to work in industry after graduating. "I appreciate the efforts of my PI, Dr. Nash, to get me involved in some collaborative research projects with important institutions in the field," he says. "Also, I would like to give back to the community by teaching. I believe that academia and industry share a common goal that includes a more educated society, which implies a better-prepared workforce."

Before he began his academic journey, Alejandro visualized his family’s goals in ten years. So far, he is on the right track. His son, now 16, is considering his own college choices. The two still do some homework together. "[My son] said, 'Dad, even though it has been a long journey, I am still proud of you,'" Alejandro notes. "And those words are the best reward I could ever ask for."


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