Volume II, Issue 5           Monday, November 22nd, 2004           Florida State University - Panama Student E-Zine

Scientific Research at FSU-Panama
by Carla Pinilla

     You might have heard somewhere that Dr. Rafael Vasquez, regular chemistry professor at FSU-Panama, made a very important discovery recently. Well, before you go and tell your friends that your chemistry professor is going to win a Nobel Prize, you’d better hear the whole story.

     Dr. Vasquez is one of the few professors in FSU-Panama that actually does research in his respective area. For him, this is very important because, besides the fact that he loves chemistry, he believes that research stimulates the students. Dr. Vasquez is always trying to find ways to make the students more interested in chemistry, to make them see it not just as another class to take, but also as knowledge that is indispensable for their futures. Last semester, for example, he traveled to Brazil for a conference in which he presented not only his work in chemistry, but also the results of a successful study in new methods of teaching using computers. With computers and research, professors can bring their classes to a much more personal level, and these are all incentives for students who go into scientific areas of work; and even to those that don’t, it shows them how important chemistry is for development.

     Going more specifically into his “discovery”, Dr. Vasquez has been working for some years on a series of complexes called Phtalocyanines, which are very similar to a series of compounds that exist in the human body. His work consisted in trying to relate these complexes to other compounds called phenols, which are important because they’re widely used in industry, and they’re also related to a series of illnesses like cancer. The problem with phenols is that so far, they can only be treated and used in conditions that are toxic for the human beings, thus requiring a lot of work and money to use them. In Dr. Vasquez’s words, “the cure is just as bad as the illness.”

     What Dr. Vasquez and others found is that some metal phtalocyanines, coupled with amino and nitro functional groups (two groups of atoms that are common in organic compounds) can help treat or detect phenol groups at levels of toxicity that would not be dangerous to people. Imagine what that could mean: the cost and complexity of the usage of phenols in industry would diminish, making it more profitable and perhaps opening doors to other uses for them; and in the medical field, it can be a new way to help fight cancer. Surely this can be a huge development for mankind.

     But, Dr. Vasquez told us, that is not enough to call it a “discovery.” For the international scientific community to call it as such, the researcher would have to do three things: first, find the problem and propose a solution; second, experiment to prove that the proposed solution works for all cases; and third, propose a mechanism that explains why this solution works. That last part is what he hasn’t been able to do yet, and “that,” he says, “is why scientists win Nobel prizes.” He’d very much like to be the one to find the mechanism, but he may not be. However it happens, he’s glad for the contribution he has already made to science.

     In the name of The Pananole News, I’d like to congratulate Dr. Rafael Vasquez for this achievement. Surely this is something that we science-major students (and even those that aren’t) will look up to, and we are very glad to have him with us in FSU-Panama.

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