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UTPA Grad headed to Germany to learn from Nobel Laureates in science
By Gail Fagan, Public Affairs Representative
381-2741
Posted: 06/24/2010
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Hector Aguilar, a 2007 alumnus of The University of Texas-Pan American and current graduate student at The University of Texas at San Antonio, will join top science students from around the world June 27-July 2 at the 60th annual Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates in Lindau, Germany.

At the meeting, the graduate student in organic chemistry will have the opportunity to hear from and meet 61 Nobel Laureates from the fields of physiology, medicine, physics and chemistry and interact and network with the other 682 students from 69 countries who will attend the international, interdisciplinary conference.


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- UTPA alumnus Hector Aguilar (Photo courtesy of UTSA)
Aguilar, a native of Corpus Christi, said when he got the e-mail that he had been selected, he was "off the wall" with excitement.

"I am not only looking forward to meet and learn from the Nobel Laureates but I'm also really looking forward to meeting the other graduate students, not just from the United States, but from other countries," he said. "It is a great way to get different perspectives and to get tips and ideas on how to progress your research. I can also give them ideas. It is a great source of collaboration especially for graduate students."

He is not the first UTPA graduate who has attended the conference. Aguilar learned about the conference from last year's attendee Magaly Salinas, a UTPA alumna who is also a graduate student in chemistry at UTSA. Aguilar, who underwent an intensive selection process, was also encouraged to apply to attend by his teacher and mentor at UTPA, Dr. Bimal Banik, President's Endowed Professor and professor of chemistry, whose lab Aguilar worked in before graduating with his bachelor's degree in biology.

"I actually did a lot of very cool research with Dr. Banik that resulted in three publications with him as an undergrad. When I was with him, I was developing new types of molecules that have potential as anti-cancer therapies. I definitely got interested in research through him. I fell in love with it and that is the main reason I decided to go to graduate school," Aguilar said.

Banik, who has supervised and mentored more than 370 students and teachers including 14 postdoctoral fellows, ranks Aguilar within the top 1 percent of his students. He said Aguilar joined his research group in 2005 under the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellowship and was actively involved in research projects.

"The standard of his research work in my laboratory was very high," Banik said.

While at UTPA, Aguilar received awards for best poster presentation at the Hispanics and Science Symposium and the best undergraduate thesis. He also presented research findings at American Chemical Society national meetings and the Texas Academy of Science, Banik said.

"Although organic chemistry is a difficult subject for many students, Hector had performed exceptionally well on all my tests from the very beginning. From his work habits and dedication, I knew he would be an asset for any top-tier research institution," Banik said.

Aguilar said he was initially interested in becoming a physician. He decided to come to UTPA when he learned from a recruiter about UTPA's premedical program with the Baylor College of Medicine. However, he became attracted to the critical thinking involved in research as well as the thrill of discovery.

"When you are in the labs you actually have to apply what you learn and then you have to look to see if the system works. There is also the excitement of discovering something that no one else has discovered yet. It is something that is novel and new and attracts you into the lab every day," he said.

He said the experience he got in UTPA's lab was invaluable.

"I can still apply the same concepts and fundamentals that I learned at UTPA here (UTSA). It gave me a huge step forward," said Aguilar, who along with his two sisters, now nurses, are the first college graduates in their family.

Aguilar said his current research at UTSA is with Dr. Doug Frantz, assistant professor of chemistry, and focuses on new drugs for use in regenerative medicine and stem cell-based therapies. His research there is supported by a grant from the Minority Biomedical Research Support - Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (MBRS-RISE) at UTSA. The RISE program provides for minority biomedical research support to increase the number of minorities into pursuing their Ph.D. or graduate degrees in science.

Planning to graduate in fall 2012 with a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, Aguilar is undecided yet on a career in either academia or industry. In either path, he said it was important to learn how to explain his science more effectively, a reason he explained on his application to want to attend the conference.

"In grad school, there are a lot of different skills we have to learn but the most important is being able to communicate your science to not only your peers and fellow scientists but to the public. I told them that I wanted to learn to communicate from the best -- the Nobel Laureates -- and when I got back to UTSA I can relay what I learned to my fellow graduate students and scientists," Aguilar said.

The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings provide a globally recognized forum for the exchange of knowledge between Nobel Laureates and young researchers. The meeting includes lectures by the Laureates, seminar talks and small group discussions with the Laureates in the areas of the students' interests. Social gatherings are also held, including a trip to Munich, Aguilar said.

For more information on the Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates, go to www.lindau-nobel.org/WebHome.AxCMS.