UTSA student wins Germany trip to meet chemistry Nobel laureates

Hector Aguilar

Hector Aguilar

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(June 11, 2010)--UTSA organic chemistry doctoral student Hector Aguilar soon will meet other top students in his field. The Corpus Christi native is one of 94 students from the United States chosen to attend the 60th annual Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates June 27-July 2 in Germany. At the international, interdisciplinary conference, Aguilar will discuss chemistry breakthroughs, network and dine with the world's finest chemists and chemistry students.

This year, 683 students from 69 countries will attend the invitation-only meeting. Aguilar is one of three attendees invited from Texas. Twenty-five Nobel laureates in chemistry also will attend the conference including 2003 Nobel laureate Peter Agre, who clarified how water is transported in and out of the body, and 1997 Nobel laureate Sir John Ernest Walker who, with co-recipient Paul Boyer, unraveled the enzymatic process that creates adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the molecule that transports energy throughout the body.

An alumnus of the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA), Aguilar learned about the Nobel laureates meeting from Magaly Salinas, a UTPA alumna also pursuing graduate studies in chemistry at UTSA. Salinas attended the Nobel laureates meeting in 2009 as UTSA's first representative. Her experience was so positive, she encouraged Aguilar to apply.

"As a graduate student, you have a lot of skills to develop. But, one of the most crucial skills you have to master is how to effectively communicate your science and your research to other scientists and in laymen's terms," said Aguilar. "Nobel laureates are the best in their field, so I thought if I want to learn how to communicate I need to watch the best communicating their research at an international conference. Of course, I am also very interested in learning about the ground-breaking research performed by the Nobel laureates first-hand."

The selection process to attend the Nobel laureates meeting was a long one for Aguilar. First, he completed an extensive application for UTSA that included a 1,000-word essay on his motivation to attend the conference. Once chosen by UTSA, his application was forwarded to conference organizers. In December 2009, Aguilar received a letter from the review committee saying he had made the first cut. In January, he submitted an application with a condensed version of his essay (from 1,000 words to 200 words) to the Scientific Review Panel of the Lindau council.

"It was kind of ironic," said Aguilar. "I'm interested in attending the conference to learn how to communicate, and the transition from a long application to a shorter essay statement was just that -- a lesson in communication. It's very hard to be succinct. I'm looking forward to seeing how the laureates do it."

A second-year doctoral student in the laboratory of Assistant Professor Doug E. Frantz, Aguilar is developing new drugs for use in regenerative medicine and stem cell-based therapies. His research is supported by a grant from the UTSA Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program, part of the UTSA Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) family of programs.