Mexican chemistry researcher Ana Cristina Garcia Alvarez has sought to gain insight into a chemical process that mimics part of photosynthesis and could potentially produce hydrogen as part of clean energy solutions.
Ana Cristina Garcia-Alvarez, now a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Chemistry at the University of California Irvine (UCI), says her previous research was inspired by the process of photosynthesis in plants and some algae, specifically in a protein complex called Photosystem II. .
Cubans are a synthetic hydrocarbon molecule with eight carbons at the corners of a cube, and Garcia-Alvarez used these cubane-like complexes with metals such as cobalt, nickel and manganese to mimic the active site of Photosystem II.
“I have developed a new and practical synthesis route for Cubans that mimics this site. These compounds are very similar in structure to the ones found in nature,” she says, “Therefore, it was possible to mimic the function of the PS II . .”
Garcia-Alvarez says these kinds of compounds give us a better understanding of just part of the vast machinery that represents the process of photosynthesis.
“It was a big challenge because trying to mimic nature is so complex and this topic is very important because in the process we generate protons that can be reduced to H2 (hydrogen gas), which can be used as a renewable energy source,” she says, adding that this project got her excited about small molecule activation, catalysis, and energy.
“This is why I am currently working on the synthesis of heterobimetallic compounds for CO2 reduction as an alternative to the environmental issues we face today, all as part of my work as a postdoctoral researcher at the UCI,” she says.
A passion for math
Garcia-Alvarez grew up in the small town of Toluca (southwest of Mexico City), where as a child she always enjoyed solving math problem books.
“I’ve always focused on natural sciences, but it took many years to discover my real passion, inorganic synthesis,” she says, adding that she discovered her passion for inorganic synthesis while working in a chemistry lab during her undergraduate degree in chemistry. in Toluca.
After her master’s degree, Garcia-Alvarez went on to obtain a doctorate at the largest university in Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
Garcia-Alvarez says she is proud to be part of a Latin American community of researchers.
“We share many cultural characteristics as a huge scientific Latin community,” she says, “I am proud to be a part of it, and I feel an obligation to do my best and help my society develop the skills to cope with current global challenges, such as global warming, deployment of renewable energy sources (directly targeting what I work as an example).”
Garcia-Alvarez says Latin American countries share a rich culture with excellent people and many natural resources.
“So if we promote education, science and technology in our countries, we will have a better future, facilitate access to science for new generations and develop our own potential,” she says. “I strongly believe that education is a great way is to help younger people and I thought it was crucial to increase the visibility of girls and women in STEM, to motivate and support young people to broaden their horizons.”
Another Latin American chemist is Colombian researcher Laura Loaiza.
Loaiza, a postdoctoral researcher at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, is working on ways to increase battery safety by finding ways to stay away from volatile and flammable components.