From conserving biodiversity in Central American rainforests to exploring the cosmos from Chile, the Latin American continent harbors a wealth of scientific talent. Qué Pasa magazine and LatinAmericanScience.org have compiled a list of 30 scientists under 40 that are doing promising work in areas as diverse as particle physics and neuroscience.
By Juan Pablo Garnham and Aleszu Bajak.
Additional reporting by Valeria Bastías y Nicolás Alonso.
Walking into the MIT Media Lab gives you at once a sense of bewilderment and curiosity. The offices are filled with cities built of Legos, here and there are prototypes of small electric cars and urban gardens, among other research. César Hidalgo (34) is at home in this environment. In fact, he is one of the few members of the faculty. “To be here you must meet three conditions: that your work is exceptional; that your work does not fit within an existing area; and that you have the ability to make something, not just papers,” says Hidalgo. “We are all makers here.” Hidalgo graduated with a physics degree from the University of Chile, but that is far from explaining what he does. “I define myself as intellectually promiscuous,” he says from Cambridge. “Perhaps the most condensed way to say what I do is that I work in on the social and economic implications of physically embodied information.” Seeing one of his projects helps to better understand this. With the Observatory of Economic Complexity, for example, one can graphically see how one lives as compared to people around the world through a powerful site that translates hundreds of data points in easy to understand graphics. Pantheon does something similar with the cultural production of the countries; and with Place Pulse it is possible to evaluate and rank characteristics like the kindness and safety of a city. All projects mix internet data usage with intriguing graphical interface. “Today, the Internet is still used as we use other media, such as paper. But the Internet allows you to go much further,” says Hidalgo. For him, this is akin to when you started playing with film cameras beyond the theater. “One of the things we couldn’t do before was make connections across large interactive databases,” says Hidalgo. When browsing their projects, there is always a feeling of discovery and enjoyment. But make no mistake. Hidalgo explains that he has been surprised by what it is possible to discover with them. “I did not expect the predictive power we would have on economic growth in the long term, for example,” says the MIT professor who is now finishing his first book, which is titled Crystallized Imagination, and already has publishers in the U.S., UK, Germany and China.
Claudio Hetz (38) says that whenever he posts something or gets into the press, dozens of desperate people write to his laboratory. This is because he and his team work on rare diseases. “Here in Chile it’s a poorly developed area and is less profitable for clinical and pharmaceutical realms,” explains the co-director of Biomedical Neuroscience Institute at the University of Chile. At the Center, many researchers are studying topics related to the brain and nervous system from different angles. Hetz is working on various diseases that attack people but still has no clear answers. For example, his laboratory is studying Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a neurological disease that affects about one person in one million.” But here in Chile it has kills more than 200 people a year. The incidence, for some unknown reason, is more than triple that of the rest of the world,” says Hetz. Almost philanthropically, his laboratory has been diagnosing more than 200 patients, confirming about one hundred cases. This work has allowed them to create a new diagnostic test for this disease. Hetz’s approach allows you to research diseases including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s syndrome, receiving from Chile funds from prestigious institutions such as the Michael J. Fox Foundation. “But the central question of the lab, beyond disease, is to see how the cell integrates information on its health status and decides whether to repair the damage or trigger self-destruction,” says Hetz. “There is a very fine balance in how the cell passes a limit stress and stops trying to survive for the good of the community. This mechanism is very complex and still not well explained.” Understanding how this works might help raise the threshold for neurons that are dying in a brain disease, or lower the threshold for a cancer so that the cancer cells are killed. “It’s a switch that exists, but at the molecular level it is extremely complex,” he says. The idea is to generate strategies that will eventually become patents for pharmaceutical companies to develop them. Meanwhile, Hetz doesn’t remain calm: since 2007, he has published more than 75 scientific articles and has won awards numerous times, including in 2008 when he was named best young scientist by the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World. He maintains close contact with researchers in the U.S. and is an adjunct professor at the Harvard School of Public Health where he did part of his graduate studies. But Hetz is not only in teaching and research. A few years ago he created along with other colleagues a foundation called NeuroUnion which hopes to create treatments and diagnostic tests for various nervous system-related diseases. He have a site for the center and hopes to begin construction soon. “The idea is to study diseases in Chile, try to attract local therapies and in the future do clinical trials here,” Hetz says.
It was after suffering a serious car accident and waiting to be subjected to an MRI that the medical physicist explained to Lorena Magallanes (25) how to work the machine that they were about to put her through. Since then she has loved what physical contributions can be made to the field of medicine. She is now pursuing a PhD project whose subject is based on heavy ion radiotherapy, a cancer treatment different from traditional care because the radiation does not target healthy organs and only attacks the cancerous area. “We are using images, x-rays and scans with the same carbon particles with which patients are treated, to see if the therapy we applied is going exactly where we had planned.” Cancer treatment with heavy ions is not often done in Latin America, but Magellanes longs to bring it to this part of the world. “I want to apply what I learn here,” she said from Heidelberg, Germany.
To explain what he does, particle physicist Fernando Febres Cordero (35) says that he derives much of his results with experiments that resemble a fruit drink thrown hard against a wall. The fruit represents the accelerating projectile and the wall, the target. The information obtained through a careful analysis of the collision, in a way, represents his work at the Large Hadron Collider. Febres Codero is convinced that people should know what concepts and mechanisms are used by science to get results, so he is constantly organizing lectures for the general public and participates in the Network of Young Researchers of Venezuela (RedJIV) that supports and encourages multidisciplinary and interagency collaboration at the national and international level.
“It was always something that appealed to me, somewhere I felt comfortable,” says Rafael Potrie (30) on mathematics. “It was beauty rather than interest, but as time went on I found it was something more important: to try to understand nature.” This doctor of the University of Paris XIII works in dynamic systems whose objective is to understand and explain how systems evolve as time passes. “It’s an area that is quite tied to reality. It is closely linked to the physical, to movement, but later, as often happens in mathematics, it ends up taking its own way and you get away from the application,” says Potrie. Despite his youth, Potrie is already a professor at the University of the Republic in Uruguay and looks forward to contributing to the development of mathematical communities in this country and around the continent.
The neuroscientist Daniel Colón-Ramos (38) grew up in a small town in Puerto Rico surrounded by forests and biodiversity, an environment that fostered in him a taste for biology and nature. After a career at Harvard University, he became specialized in developmental neurobiology, i.e., how our brains are connected. In his lab, he uses nematodes–also known as round worms–as a model organism to study the behavior of cells. He is trying to understand how they are connected to all neurons in a simple organism like a round worm to then conceptualize how human cells are organized. It is a system called the connectome and Colón- Ramos hopes to understand how it explains how our brain’s gray matter develops.
It started with a Nintendo gaming system that never came. When he was little, says Luis von Ahn (35), he had asked for the gift from his mother but she had instead bought him a computer. “I was not very happy, but I had to get used to it,” says the Guatemalan. “I read the entire manual to learn how it worked and I became interested in science.” Von Ahn is now part of the daily lives of virtually all Internet users in the world. He created a reCAPTCHA system for separating between bots and humans when registering for a site. In addition, reCAPTCHA enables the digitization of books at the same time as authenticating human registrants. Born in 1979, Von Ahn today is Professor in the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University and in 2006 received the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship. But this is not what has made him the most proud, he says. “Duolingo is definitely work that has me happier,” he says. Duolingo is a free application that allows you to learn languages through a game on your smartphone. Each week you receive emails from hundreds of people thanking him for that creation. “It is a project that is growing rapidly and, most importantly, is affecting many people in a positive way,” he explains. In emails to Von Ahn, people have told him that they have managed to find better jobs, enter study abroad programs, and even connected with distant relatives who do not speak the same language.” I created Duolingo because I was born in Guatemala, a very poor country where most people simply cannot afford to pay for better education,” says Von Ahn. “I wanted to do something about this so that they all have equal access.” Von Ahn ‘s idea is to lower the cost of learning a language. Along those lines, he is trying to change the way that the knowledge of a language is certified.” Now everybody has to do the TOEFL, for example, but that is too expensive and complicated to do,” he says. “We will launch in May something that will change that.”
Afterwards she was told that she did not show it, but she says she was very nervous. It was at the meeting of the American Society of Hematology in New Orleans where Wendy Béguelin (34) had to present her work in front of fifteen thousand people.” When I signed up for the meeting, I sent the summary of my paper. It was selected from six thousand abstracts from around the world,” she recalls. It was ten minutes long, five for questions, and then the applause and the interest of journalists in her work which deals with the relationship between epigenetic factors and lymphomas. She has always lived in a scientific environment: her parents are doctors and her dad and brother share hematology as a specialty. She started studying biology at the University of Buenos Aires, thinking of zoology but quickly became attracted to a book on molecular biology that her brother gave her. “The things that I discovered in the nucleus of cells were awesome. There was a party going on in there,” recalls Béguelin. After doing her PhD at the University of Buenos Aires, where she worked on breast cancer, she decided to leave for the United States with her husband (who works in neuroscience). She made a list of laboratories that mattered most to do her postdoctoral career and accepted her favorite: Ari Melnick at Cornell. That’s where she began studying lymphoma and epigenetics, one of the fields of biology that has most opened up in recent years. Epigenetics is the set of chemical processes that modify the activity of DNA without altering its sequence. “A few years ago this was not even related to the disease,” says Béguelin. “I’m working on one of the factors that affect lymphoma, EZH2, an enzyme that modifies or regulates the physical state of a gene so as to express or repress it more,” she says. Her research was published in the journal Cancer Cell and led her to speak in front of those fifteen thousand experts in hematology, among which was a very special one who had already been to several of her conferences but never one of this much importance: her father.
Juan Manuel Guayasamin (39) is fascinated by semi-translucent glass frogs. They inhabit Latin American forests from Central America to Brazil and make up over 150 species. Almost every time the biologist goes into the field he finds new species. “Studying the dispersion and evolution of these small frogs can contribute to science by giving us a better understanding of the importance of the Andes as a generator of biodiversity,” explains Guayasamín. “Our work has the ultimate goal of documenting and understanding diversity as a tool for conservation in the most diverse part of the world.” Beyond these goals, Guayasamín and his colleagues want to understand why the tropics are more diverse than temperate areas.
“One thing I really like about academia is that you have the freedom to explore something,” says Jose Correa (39), “you can get into new topics, spend time on things of uncertain outcome.” Today, for example, he is considering issues as diverse as social networks and evading fares on Chile’s Transantiago transportation system through mathematical models. “There’s someone there making a strategic decision. Someone says ‘I’d rather not pay the fee because the possibility of getting caught is low.’ What I want to see is how to control the fees on buses and how to do that so that evasion is not so convenient,” explains the University of Chile academic. But this is not his only interest: he is also part of the executive committee of the Global Young Academy, an organization of young scientists meeting in Chile in May.
With the money he earned as a child doing errands around the neighborhood, Diego Croci (35) would buy popular science magazines and dream of the flying cars and artificially intelligent robots that appeared within their pages. These dreams eventually became a reality for one of Argentina’s most outstanding young researchers. In February, the journal Cell published a study of Croci’s that identified a new mechanism to escape anti-angiogenic therapy of tumors. Although many patients undergoing therapy are able to interrupt the growth of blood vessels feeding tumors, they do not always stop growing and neither do their the tumors. Croci is looking for new targets for cancer therapies and answers to questions like: Why are some tumors refractory to current therapies? What are the mechanisms that drive the creation of blood vessels in cancers? Following the publication on the cover of the journal Cell, Croci met with the President of Argentina. But fame has not gone to his head. Instead, Croci says his boss is his inspiration and blessing. Under the tutelage of veteran Argentine scientist Gabriel Rabinovich, he has been allowed to reach these professional heights. “Working with Gabi is the touch of luck I had in life, the train that I grabbed, ” says Croci. “It is an academic luxury and pleasure on the human level.” He admits that this intellectual support and Gabi’s lab is an “oasis in Argentina.” Most labs in the country lack the scientific resources it takes to do world-class science. “Today it takes three to six months for an antibody to reach us,” says Croci.”But science in Argentina is growing. We’re fighting from behind in the world. That makes us strong, creative and innovative.” When not playing with cells and pipettes, Croci is playing with his kids or playing folk and rock songs on his guitar with his colleagues.
The agronomist Marrafon Mateus (29) wants to make life easier for small farmers. A machine he developed is biodegradable seed tape that is laid under the earth and ensures plants that grow out of it are perfectly spaced. The project was awarded US$100,000 from the Gates Foundation. Marrafon expects to improve the performance and efficiency of farmers in Brazil and worldwide.
Developed with cellulose extracted from plants that will degrade naturally in the soil, his invention so far has five patents. He looks forward to adding another innovation: putting fertilizer on the seed tape. The novelty will launch at this year’s Brazilian agricultural fair. In addition to providing fertilizer and humidity, the tape can also be developed with different seeds along the same piece—corn, melon and watermelon—to achieve a more diverse performance for farmers.
“I think we are all scientists to some extent, there is something that concerns us greatly and we want to share the results with the rest of our community. That’s my great motivation to do science,” says Francisco Román (37), a Peruvian biologist who has worked at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in the jungles of Panama. For Román, it is essential to biodiversity to keep it where it still exists and replace it where it has gone missing. He recently completed a guide which cataloged 120 species of trees native to Panama and the neotropics. He is now working on a new volume of the journal of the National University of Madre de Dios, Peru. In the future, he wants to investigate the impacts caused by illegal gold mining in the Amazon and the possibilities for remediation and reforestation with native species.
The initial question was simple: how many species are there on the planet? Camilo Mora (39), a Colombian marine biologist, was part of the team that developed a mathematical model to answer it. “We came to 8.7 million. Today we have discovered only 1.5,” he explains from his office at the University of Hawaii. Taking data from scientists around the world and using statistical methods and meta-analysis, Mora has managed to continue working on this question. The second question was to see what was happening to these species. They found that, although each year eight thousand new species are discovered, 25,000 go extinct, as research he published in the journal Science concluded. Mora has worked on understanding the causes of these problems, such as deforestation and climate change. However, he has an open question for which he is seeking funding: how can we avoid serious environmental problems?
Pablo Imbach’s (38) work blends research and technical support for public organizations. “In that sense, we are now working with issues of climate change and reforestation, among others, with a focus on conservation and service systems,” says Imbach, who has a PhD in Environmental Sciences from the University of Pierre and Marie Curie in France.
“In Central America there are several holes and we are trying to work on that. We have contact with government agencies and organizations dedicated to conservation,” says Imbach. His focus is on water, biodiversity, climate and agriculture and always supported by computational models that seek to tease out the relationship between climate, soil, vegetation and water. Imbach has led a series of studies in this area and today is analyzing the vulnerability to climate change of smallholder coffee farmers in Central America.
What Andres Jordán (38) wants to find is planets. More precisely: extrasolar habitable planets orbiting around other bright stars. And he’s found about fifteen of those. The key is in the orbit: upon eclipsing their suns, these planets can be studied more precisely. The questions are those that are fundamental to life: does the planet have the capacity to support life? To find exoplanets, Jordán uses networked telescopes created by Gáspár Bakos of Princeton that have observatories in Australia, Namibia and Chile, which monitor all day long a celestial body from different skies. And the stakes are on the rise. The plans have just been finished for a new telescope, the HATPI composed of 60 lenses, which will snap one photo per minute from Las Campanas in Chile to create a movie of the sky. In variations of this macroimage, the astronomers expect to find planets that are still hiding in plain sight.
The patients of Peruvian doctor Jaime Miranda (38) are scattered throughout Peru, forming part of an outdoor laboratory where he can combat obesity, hypertension, mental illness stigma and social exclusion. He has even begun to investigate the relationship between climate, land use and infectious disease in the Amazon. Miranda has emerged as one of the most renowned doctors in his country, not only for his frequent scientific publications—with famous authors such as the medical anthropologist Paul Farmer—but also because of his deep motivation and curiosity. Miranda explains that part of his approach to medicine comes from Farmer’s portrait in the book Mountains Beyond Mountains. “Once you get past one hill, many others appear that intrigue you and give you the energy and curiosity to continue” says Miranda.
Karin Menéndez-Delmestre wanted to work that summer and try to raise some money. She was 21 and studying physics, but that temporary employment changed her course. She started work at Puerto Rico’s Arecibo radio telescope, a large radio antenna 305 meters in diameter in Puerto Rico and decided that her path would be astronomy. “I liked working with the telescope,” Menéndez says, “it was using it in a very large laboratory: the sky.” Now she is a Caltech graduate at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro’s Valongo Observatory. Her specialty is the study of galaxies. “I do different projects, but with one thing in common: studying galaxies that are not ours, to understand how they form and how they change,” she explains. Among them, she has worked with galaxies called “old and boring,” finding that they are not as boring and in them there are complex and very interesting phenomena.
The before and after happened at a lab at the National University in Bogotá, Colombia. Adam Wasserman (37), a chemistry student, saw a beam of light pass through a hydrogen lamp and break into colors. Then the teacher wrote a simple formula on the board which determined which colors appeared and which didn’t. Such simplicity, the ability to write a mystery in numbers, changed his way of thinking and thereafter he became obsessed with the computational calculation of the properties of matter. Along these lines, his contribution has been perfecting the theory of functional density, one of the most used methods in quantum calculations, to carry it out on an even smaller scale: to be capable of calculating equations in fractions of molecules. This partitioned theory has had an impact on the development of nanotechnology but Wasserman is more ambitious: he thinks that it may be the basis from which math can theoretically redefine how one studies and does chemistry worldwide.
“Growing up in a village in southern Chile did not give me the opportunity to have direct contact with the biological sciences,” says immunologist Edward Villablanca (36). It wasn’t until the laboratories of the University of Chile that he became fascinated with genetic manipulation. Now an instructor at Harvard, Villablanca is fast becoming a leader in his field. Villablanca wants to understand how the immune system is educated in the gut to induce tolerance to attack by the body’s own cells and prevent the development of autoimmune diseases. “What’s interesting,” says Villablanca,” is that if something goes wrong in these processes of ‘education,’ we can develop apart from the obvious related bowel diseases therapies for diseases in other organs such as type-1 diabetes and even autism.” With that idea, Villablanca is starting his own laboratory at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, where he will study the symbiosis between the millions of microorganisms that form part of the intestinal immune system.
“What are clouds made of?” asked Isabel Pedraza (34) when she was a child. Her response was “clearly they are not made of cotton.” One dark night while looking at the sky in her grandfather’s village she said aloud, “I would like to study the stars.” “You should study astronomy,” her uncle replied. Pedraza maintained that curiosity throughout her training and, after years of motivation, reached the epicenter of the world of physics, where she could answer questions with the world’s best brains and best scientific tools. She earned a place in the vast laboratory at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva, searching for the elusive Higgs particle. Together with another group at CERN, Pedraza and her colleagues have found evidence of the Higgs particle with a massive detector called the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS). Pedraza is currently deputy leader of the group that handles the five story CMS particle detector. From there she contributed to the discovery of the Higgs particle. “It is the last block of the physical model that describes the weak and strong forces on matter,” says Pedraza. “This is the reason particles, and consequently we, have mass.” Joining the community of leading scientists to Pedraza is very motivating. “It’s like going to a job you love every day. Sometimes you walk to the restaurant and find some Nobel laureate. Sometimes you are just drinking coffee with friends and arguing about the latest results of other experiments, you wonder if supersymmetry exists or not, or how to search for new physics.” For the Mexican, working at CERN is a great luxury. “Every day you learn something new,” says Pedraza. “There is no difference between the opinion of someone young and someone old. There are no religious or nationalistic barriers except when talking about soccer. You learn languages, cultures, and learn to respect all forms of belief.”
The world of data protection moves fast, always looking for new options to resolve vulnerabilities. Therefore, it is not surprising that the physicist John Fredy Barrera (37) has garnered so much attention and won the Gallieno Denardo prize this year. He works with optical safety systems. “But they have a problem: when you retrieve information it is encrypted and comes back with noise. It is not true to the original,” says Barrera. However, the Colombian found a solution: combine optical systems with QR codes. “This allowed us to eliminate that problem. With a tablet or smartphone you can recover the data without noise,” says Barrera.
This is not just an application that has interest from Colombia and Spain, but also an example of what you can achieve with collaboration within Latin American. Its development was carried out with Colombians and groups of Argentine physicists.
Ignacio Carrera (31), an organic chemist at Uruguay’s University of the Republic, works on the border between chemistry and biology and has been highly influenced by a postdoctoral post he held at Columbia University. “That was in a group where we worked with the central nervous system, seeking to create a type of defined brain activity,” says Carrera, “that’s what I’ve been doing in Uruguay since my return.” The researcher is working with substances that allow the brain to secrete proteins, called neurotrophic factors, which can promote the growth, maintenance and survival of a neuron. They can be used to attack psychiatric disorders including addiction. The idea is that this will one day be patented. Indeed, he already has his name on one for the work he did at Columbia.
At the age of eight in his native Puerto Rico, Jorge Velez-Juarbe (33) was given an album of trading cards about dinosaurs and prehistoric life. He was struck by the diversity of life that had existed on Earth and eventually came across a photo of a paleontologist finding eggs in the Gobi desert. That’s when he decided that paleontology would be his profession. Recently Velez-Juarbe found a graveyard of whales off the coast of Chile in the Atacama Desert. He was part of an with an international team that found over forty skeletons of whales that lived more than six million years ago. Although the initial idea was to dig up dinosaurs in Puerto Rico, he says, he realized very quickly that his native island did not have many of those fossils. He turned to fossil hunting for marine mammals that were on the island. “Being the first human to see them and then being able to study them in a certain way brings them back to life,” says Velez-Juarbe.
It is safe to say he is on track to win the Fields Medal, a distinction equivalent to a Nobel Prize in mathematics. So renowned is Fernando Coda Marques (35) among his Latin American peers, though he is still five years from being eligible for the award. On his resume he already has an outstanding achievement: the resolution of the Willmore conjecture, one of the most important problems in recent years of differential geometry raised in 1965. Determined to solve this problem with his Portuguese partner André Neves, he achieved in two months a clear idea of his solution and in three more months to write down the problem and check the details. That stage, Coda says, was the most difficult and one he will not forget. For the young scientist, to discover “new and beautiful math” is his greatest happiness. “This requires a lot of dedication and most of the time attempts are thwarted. But every frustration leads to a better understanding of the problem and at any moment you can discover an idea that was missing and everything is clear. It’s an indescribable feeling,” Coda stresses from Brazil, where he has set up a field that before his collaboration did not exist. “After completing my Masters, I did a PhD in the USA for a line of research in differential geometry–geometric analysis–and develop it in my country. I returned when I finished my PhD and since then I am a professor of IMPA,” says Coda. To solve the Willmore conjecture that had puzzled so many of the world’s brightest mathematicians, today allows scientists to better understand why certain figures in nature, for example, optimally emulate one another. Moreover, the techniques used by Coda and Neves will give mathematicians the tools to face new challenges. After eleven years teaching at IMPA, and with much thought, Coda decided to leave Brazil. He has accepted an offer from Princeton University where he will start classes in September of this year. Still, he says, his relationship with Brazil is very strong and he looks forward to contributing to his country while abroad.
Ecuador is the laboratory of Veronica Crespo-Pérez (32). “It is a diverse country, with many species living in different communities,” says the ecologist. “By studying them, we know what makes a place richer in species than another, and know, in advance, what factors will cause their decline in another place.” Crespo works to analyze these communities, a subject which, with a country that is seeing increasing investment from mining and oil interests, is highly relevant. “Often the impact studies are not always comprehensive or detailed,” says Crespo. Another issue that she has worked on is pests such as the potato moth, usually affecting poor farmers in Ecuador. Her idea is to prevent and reduce the costs of combating the agricultural pest for them.
Complex networks. Therein lies everything for Adilson Motter (40), a Brazilian physicist. The main findings of his early studies were possible solutions for diseases and also the financial crisis. His work is based on the study of how these can be applied to various systems. In Motter‘s words, a complex network is any system formed of a large number of parts that are integrated to each other, such as genes. The physicist explains that he focuses on the development of methods to control the “cascading failures” in these complex networks. “When an earthquake occurs and a the electrical grid fails, that failure spreads and leaves without light places where the earthquake was not even felt. It has produced a cascade of failures,” explains Motter, whose first major publication was one which showed that a failure could be controlled in a complex network even after it had begun to spread. Motter has an impressive resume for his age: he was a visiting scientist at Germany’s Max Planck Institute, he worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the U.S.A. and received the Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship. Now he heads a research group at Northwestern University in Chicago. “Most people choose to do science because as children they saw something that caught their attention, like a telescope, or because they come from a family of scientists. Not in my case. I discovered it little by little,” says Motter, who after attending an anatomy class was convinced that everything related to medicine and biology could be explained from physical principles. Through that premise, and with other scientists, he discovered the “synthetic rescue” phenomenon in metabolic networks, demonstrating that when a mutation leaves a gene inactive, it is possible to recover some of its biological function by turning off other genes. This is exactly the opposite of what conventional gene therapy, which is based on the introduction of missing gene copies. Motter is now focused on how to control the cascades of failures in biological networks for the treatment of diseases such as cancer, in infrastructure networks to alleviate traffic congestion and also in socio-economic systems to control financial crises. “These issues should master my interests for the coming years,” he says enthusiastically.
Physically, quantum memories are not much, just a glass cube five millimeters per side. But according to Florencia Pascual (36), the key to that could go to creating future digital security: the protection of everything from emails to bank transfers to government protection. In Argentina, the researcher is studying quantum computing which uses light-emitting transistors instead of current computers to store and transfer information. Combining optical and magnetic resonance, Pascual is trying to extend the time in which these memories can store information, which has been one of its shortcomings, and thus hasten the arrival of quantum computing. This, she explains, would be able to decipher any security algorithm, as well as create new quantum algorithms inviolable nature for a timespan in the thousands of years.
Treister’s idea is to understand the galaxies. “Knowing how in the early universe you had small and half deformed galaxies and then ten billion years later you come across something like the Milky Way,” says Ezequiel Treister (34), professor at the University of Concepción in Chile. The road for Treister continues along to black holes. All large galaxies, including the Milky Way, have one of these black holes sitting in the center. “The idea is to see how they work, how they grow and how that growth affects the galaxy,” says the Argentine, who has published in journals such as Nature. To make progress in your field, Treister is working with a small group of astronomers and NASA scientists to build a new space telescope. “What we know today is still very limited. We need a more powerful telescope, ” Treister explains.
Diego Pol (39) has led expeditions in search of dinosaur fossils in Argentina and with a group from the American Museum of Natural History in the Gobi, which to paleontologists is not a desert as it contains one of the richest deposits fossils of dinosaurs that lived 80 million years ago. Back home in Patagonia, Pol is trying to unearth the family tree of Argentine dinosaurs. Thanks to a postdoctoral fellowship at Ohio State University and a fellowship at Columbia University, Pol has learned the latest techniques to help understand which dinosaurs and reptiles walked through Patagonia when it was lush and wet more than 66 million years ago. In his office in southern Argentina, Pol spends his time teaching and guiding students and editing internationally recognized journals including the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and BMC Evolutionary Biology..