Interviewing Chemistry Students

Esteban could be found studying in the library before COVID times

Episode 1: Esteban Bertsch Aguilar
Interviewed by Ricardo Hidalgo

R: Esteban, tell us a bit about yourself. How did you become interested in sience? and why did you choose our Chemistry programme?

E: I am 21. I attended Colegio Humboldt for high school and this is currently my 4th (last) year of my undergrad. Ever since I was a child I’ve been interested in science. I am a Gen Z so I was heavily surrounded by technology and media in my childhood. I remember spending long hours watching Discovery Channel as a boy, and that ignited a scientific curiosity within me. I used to wonder all time: “What happens if mix these two things together?” Luckily, I never stumbled upon anything dangerous in my homemade experiments. Later when I was a teen, YouTube channels such as Vsauce, Veritasium, Mark Robber, CdeCiencia, Quantum Fracture, and alike, captured my attention for hours and hours.
My interest for chemistry started in my last years of hish school. In ninth grade (age 15) I had my first chemistry class. It was a class that most students disliked. However, my teacher made chemistry incredibly entertaining and engaging. It was always exciting to be in that class. In the following years, topics that are usually quite boring such as periodic properties, electronic configurations, stoichiometry, balancing equations, and so on, were explained gracefully by my teachers (Thank you Herr Pfennig and Profe Carolina!). By the time I was finishing high-school I knew I wanted to pursue Chemistry in university.

R: You took my Bio-inorganic Chemistry class last semester, which is aimed at advanced masters’ students. As an undergrad yourself, What motivated you to take it? How was that experience?

E: Last year I took the introductory courses for Inorganic Chemistry with Dr Pineda. I felt very passionate about the subject and the topics discussed in this class. I loved the way things are approached and analyzed in Inorganic Chemistry. The fact that we learned how quantum mechanics and group theory applies to chemistry was fascinating for me! The interconnection between chemistry, modern physics, and mathematics was eye-opening. Before taking this class, I had no idea you could obtain so much information of a molecule by virtue of its geometry alone.

It was announced during my inorganic chemistry class that the following semester the Bio-inorganic Chemistry course was going to be open. I was intrigued by how these concepts that I was learning (Δo, oxidative additions, reductive eliminations, migratory insertions, and so on) could be applied to biological systems.

When the day came that I started my Bio-inorganic Chemistry class, I had NO idea it was a postgrad-level course. It was a surprise to me that 80 % of the students were postgrads. At the beginning I was slightly intimidated. In hindsight I now think this was a good thing. It made me put a good effort because I wanted to deliver at the expected level in this class. My biology background was a bit lacking too. I noticed this had a negative impact on the first topics covered (origin of life, chemosmotic theory, electron transport chains, and metabolism). In the same way I put a good effort in these first topics with the assinged readings. Overall, it was impressive to learn the huge amount of diverse functions that metal ions play in the living world. It was one of the best classes I’ve taken.

With all the safety considerations meticulously followed, Esteban proceeds to determine the mass of a random plastic box in the lab.

R: So COVID… bit of a downer. It caught us all right at the start of last semester. What has your experience been with this? You think we’re adapting OKish?

E: At the beginning it was very hard to adapt. I rarely spent long hours in front of my computer before that. I mainly used it for writing my lab reports uo to that point. Over time, I gradually got used to it and I now think I managed to adapt somehow well. Virtual classes are far from ideal, to put it mildly. Soon enough, however, I was able to identify what strategies served me well for keeping up with my academic responsibilities. Since I was spending most of my waking hours in front of my computer, I decided to get on with LaTex as well as some basic programming skills. I felt that the virtualization allowed me to reach a new level of maturity, responsibility, and work ethic.

The Bio-inorganic Chemistrty course in virtual mode required more reading and researching than it otherwise would have. Not a lot can be taught effectively in an online video session, so we the students had to play a more proactive role in the learning process. Evaluation-wise, the virtual modality allowed for some creative inventions from the teacher such as group discussions between students. For our final exam, we wrote a mini-review on a metalloenzyme of our choosing (find below).

Esteban incresing his ki in Taekwondo training. He likes sports, the ones that involve combat. Don’t mess with him.

R: How do you see yourself in 5 years?

E: I’d very much like to go abroad to pursue doctoral studies. Time will tell.

R: If you were not a scientist, what would you be?

E: I think I would be in sports, of the comnbat kind. Maybe taekwondo, boxing, or MMA.

The QUICK 10

Cats or dogs? Dogs (I’ve had 4, but only one cat)
Pizza or burgers? Pizza
The beach or the mountains? Beach
Wine or beer? Beer
Star Wars, LOTR, or Harry Potter? Star Wars (although the sequels were a disaster)
Favorite book? A Martian Oddisey (Stanley Weinbaum)
Favorite sport? Taekwondo
Favourite movie? Star Wars
Would you rather be able to fly but lose the ability to walk, or predict the future albeit forgetting the past? Flying. Social distancing would be so much easier
Unlimited plane tickets, or free food in restaurants for life? Plane tickets

For his final project in the Bio-inorganic Chemistry course, Esteban wrote a very good mini-review on a Molybdenum containing enzyme: The Mitochondrial Amidoxime Reducing Component:

Read Esteban’s mini-review on the Molybdenum mARC

Post by Ricardo Hidalgo

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