Phone: (+506) 2511-8536
Inorganic, Biomaterials and Bioinorganic Chemistry
Catedrático, Universidad de Costa Rica
University of Virginia 1990-1991 Postdoctorate (B. Averill)
Indiana University 1990 Ph. D. (G. Christou)
Universidad de Costa Rica 1986 Licenciado (C. Murillo)
What do you do if you love the physical and biological sciences?
My path in science started in basic inorganic chemistry, then I worked on the application of synthetic methods to understanding the metal sites of metallobiomolecules. Later on, I moved to studying actual metalloenzymes and more recently to understanding the role of the inorganic elements in ecosystems. I feel it is all a natural consequence of my love for basic science, life sciences and the environment.
Synthetic inorganic chemistry can be applied to solving important problems. We would all like to have cheap and clean energy sources but for example the electrochemical production of hydrogen is concomitant with the energy-hungry formation of oxygen at the anode. No contaminants here but we better not waste energy in the anodic reaction! We are then trying to create anodic coating materials based on molecular cobalt complexes that lower the energy cost of oxygen formation during electrolysis and thus lower the cost of hydrogen production.
I am applying my experience in chemistry and in scientific imaging to the study of structural color in tropical insects of Costa Rica. Some periodic structures of the insect exoskeleton made of chitin, protein and small molecules diffract and reflect light resulting in insects of striking metallic coloration. We study the Chrysina beetles of the Costa Rican highland oak forests because their reflections consist of left-handed circularly polarized light: a trait only some members of the Scarabaeidae family share. This is a collaborative endeavor together with Physicists of the CICIMA, and Entomologists of the Costa Rican National Museum and we hope we can apply our results to developing colored materials for the pigment industry.
Our research on the bioinorganic chemistry of extreme environments takes advantage of Costa Rica’s location on the Pacific Rim of Fire. Our active volcanoes create lakes and rivers rich in sulfuric acid which mobilizes elements from the rocks in forms that can be metabolized by microorganisms. The interplay between these volcanic environments and the tropical rainforest results in unique ecosystems adapted to hyperacid conditions. Our results could also provide ideas for bioremediation or even for the search for extraterrestrial life. Our colleage Dr. Max Chavarría and I started this work as a multinational collaboration and have been fortunate to find unique and fascinating extreme microbial ecosystems in our country.
Arce-Rodríguez, A.; Puente-Sánchez, F.; Avendaño, R.; Libby, E.; Mora-Amador, R.; Rojas-Jimenez, K.; Martínez, M.; Pieper, D. H.; Chavarría, M. Microbial Community Structure Along a Horizontal Oxygen Gradient in a Costa Rican Volcanic Influenced Acid Rock Drainage System. Microbial Ecology 2020. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00248-020-01530-9.
Vargas, W.; Avendano, E.; Hernández-Jiménez, M.; Azofeifa, D.; Libby, E.; Solís, Á.; Barboza-Aguilar, C. Photonic Crystal Characterization of the Cuticles of Chrysina Chrysargyrea and Chrysina Optima Jewel Scarab Beetles. Biomimetics 2018, 3 (4), 30. https://doi.org/10.3390/biomimetics3040030.
Arce-Rodríguez, A.; Puente-Sánchez, F.; Avendaño, R.; Libby, E.; Rojas, L.; Cambronero, J. C.; Pieper, D. H.; Timmis, K. N.; Chavarría, M. Pristine but Metal-Rich Río Sucio (Dirty River) is Dominated by Gallionella and Other Iron-Sulfur Oxidizing Microbes. Extremophiles 2017, 21 (2), 235–243. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00792-016-0898-7.
Vargas, W. E.; Hernández-Jiménez, M.; Libby, E.; Azofeifa, D. E.; Solis, á.; Barboza-Aguilar, C. Broadening of Effective Photonic Band Gaps in Biological Chiral Structures: From Intrinsic Narrow Band Gaps to Broad Band Reflection Spectra. EPL (Europhysics Letters) 2015, 111 (6), 64001. https://doi.org/10.1209/0295-5075/111/64001.