Mimicking Photosynthesis Could Help Solve Climate Conundrums
Mexican chemistry researcher Ana Cristina Garcia Alvarez has worked to understand a chemical process that mimics part of photosynthesis and could possibly produce hydrogen as part of clean energy solutions.
Ana Cristina Garcia-Alvarez, now a postdoctoral researcher in the Chemistry Department at University of California Irvine (UCI), says that her previous research was inspired by the process of photosynthesis held by plants and some algae, specifically in a protein complex called Photosystem II .
Cubanes are a synthetic hydrocarbon molecule with eight carbon atoms at the corners of a cube and Garcia-Alvarez used these cubane-type complexes with metals like cobalt, nickel and manganese for mimicking the active site of Photosystem II.
“I developed a novel and practical route of synthesis for cubanes that mimic this site, these compounds are structurally very similar to the one that is found in nature,” she says, “Therefore, it was possible to mimic the function of the PS II .”
Garcia-Alvarez says these kind of compounds let us to understand in a better way just a piece of the huge machinery that process of Photosynthesis represents.
“It was a big challenge due to trying to mimic nature is so complex and this topic is very important because during the process we generate protons that could be reduced to H2 (hydrogen gas), which could be used like a renewable energy source,” she says, adding that it was with this project that she got keen on activation of small molecules, catalysis and energy.
“This is the reason why I am currently working in the synthesis of heterobimetallic compounds for CO2 reduction as an alternative to the environmental problematic we are facing nowadays, all this as part of my work as postdoctoral scholar at UCI,” she says.
A Passion For Math
Garcia-Alvarez grew up in the small city of Toluca, (southwest of Mexico City), where as a child she always enjoyed solving books of maths problems.
“I always focused on natural sciences, but it took many years to find out my real passion, inorganic synthesis,” she says, adding that discovered her passion for inorganic synthesis while working in a chemistry lab during her undergraduate degree in Chemistry in Toluca.
After her masters degree, Garcia-Alvarez went on to doctoral studies at the biggest university of 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 a lot of cultural characteristics as a huge scientific Latin community,” she say, “I am proud to be part of it, and I feel the duty to do my best and help my society to develop the skills to face the current global challenges, like global warming, employment of renewable energy sources (directly focused on what I work as example).”
Garcia-Alvarez says Latin American countries share a rich culture with outstanding people and plenty of natural sources.
“So, if we promote education, science and technology in our countries we will have a better future, facilitating the access to science for new generations and developing our own potential,” she says, “I am very convinced that education is a great way to help younger people and I found it crucial to expand visibility for girls and women in STEM, motivate and support youth to expand their horizons.”
Another Latin American chemist is Colombian researcher Laura Loaiza.
Loaiza, a postdoc researcher at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg is working on ways to increase the safety of batteries by finding ways to move away from volatile and flammable components.