Hi, I am Juan R. I am from Vigo, a city of Galicia (Spain). You possibly know my community by the unfortunate Prestige disaster.
When I was a 10-year boy, I wished for be many things as football player, fireman, etc. When I was 13 or 14 years (an “EGB” student) then I discovered science.
After, I learn more and more science in the “BUP”. Each year, there was a single course in physics and chemistry. We studied much physics but little chemistry.
But things changed in the previous course to university (“COU”); there were two separated courses: physics and chemistry. The book on chemistry was so fascinating for me that I say that discovered chemistry when I was an 18-year child! Then I obtained more information about chemistry and discovered many funny things. E.g., nobody say to me that Isaac Newton was a chemist, but the COU book on chemistry talked about the chemical investigations of Newton and his cousin Humphrey. Then I ask myself why had been occulted that Newton was a chemist. Unfortunately, I discovered that the history of science is usually rewritten, with an emphasis in physics. This was my first important lesson.
Then I began my studies in chemistry, University of Vigo. I used my “mathematical” mind to study chemical thermodynamics, engineering, and all that. I was fascinated with analytical chemistry, with my first synthesis of beautiful inorganic crystals, and others. Then, I received my first course on organic chemistry. The first exam was “easy”: nomenclature, molecular structure, SN1, SN2, etc. I remember that I remained perplexed when professor used kits called molecular models for shows us molecular motions. I thought that molecules were as rigid as book’s illustrations! Chemistry was, and continues to be, a box of surprises for me.
In the following exam on synthesis, I used my “mathematical” mind, which worked “well” in solving “physical” or “engineering” problems; but I do not pass it. I was desolated. Then, I began to read additional material on organic chemistry until finally I discovered the error. The error was that the mathematical method of “learn-this-equation-put-in-it-the-data-and-solve-it” did not work in organic synthesis. It was necessary to develop that I call a chemical intuition. It was then when I began to suspect that chemistry could not be reduced only to physics and math. This was my second important lesson.
Whereas I was still a student, I was a collaborator in the bulletin Galicia Química. Then I collaborated with two official bodies of chemical associates: the Colegio Oficial de Químicos de Galicia and A.T. ANQUE de Galicia. I learned that there exists a chemical world (law, bureaucracy, relationships with society, etc.) outside of chemical laboratory. This was my thirst important lesson.
After, I began to be a research collaborator in a group of marine biogeochemistry. I began each day in the classroom in the University, and finalized the day collaborating in the Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas (CSIC). It was a fascinating work; the research was multidisciplinary. I published several articles, chapters in monographs, etc. I also participated (M. DeCastro, M. Gómez-Gesteira, R. Prego, J. R. González-Álvarez & V. Pérez-Villar) in an international conference: Oceans III Millenium. 1st International Congress on Marine Science and Technology. I was the only student; in fact, Pérez-Villar was a recognized professor of physics and head of a dept. of physics of the University of Santiago de Compostela!
I learned research methodology and many biogeochemistry topics in the Prego’s group. Possibly the most fascinating lesson was that all in nature was linked. For studying cycles in the Rias, one needs to know inorganic chemistry of marine water, analytical chemistry of heavy metals in sediment, thermodynamics of atmosphere, oceanography, hydrodynamics, and bacteria metabolism, between others. Complexity was my fourth important lesson.
One day, I discovered a book by Ilya Prigogine: The End of Certainty. He, possibly the most important scientist of 20th century, talked about the role of time in our formulations of Nature and why that topic was ignored in usual literature, where the paradox of time is not noticed. I learned that there are profound “hidden” errors in usual scientific literature. This was my fifth important lesson.
The above book claimed for a change of perspective in science; I was impressed and contacted with Prigogine. My lack of PhD was unimportant for him and he presented to me to one of his collaborators, Dr. Gonzalo Ordonez. Since then, I have a fluent contact with both. There was an informal dispute (I was still a student) between his theory and my ideas. I was not sure of some mathematical steps of Prigogine’s theory, but then my mathematical preparation was insufficient for rigorous discussion. After of some time, I believed prepared and sent to Prigogine a list of questions that I was investigating by myself. His reply was fascinating: “The questions that you ask are very difficult”. Lamentably, Prigogine passed away some days after. He newer known my reply, neither the result of the research: canonical chemistry.
I am a young researcher specialized in fundamental chemistry on Vigo. I love chemistry. The rest of my history is known in the canonical chemistry forum. Is there a sixth lesson? Yes. Future is not given, determinism of physics (Schrödinger equation is still deterministic) is an approximation to real systems. We are both writers and actors at the same time of our own history.