USC and the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT) have announced the selection of 11 researchers from Mexico who will join USC this fall as part of a new initiative to jointly fund them as postdoctoral fellows for up to two years.
One of the provost’s signature programs, the fellowship awards early-career scholars $68,000 per year to conduct cutting-edge research with established USC researchers, and was launched in March during a visit to Mexico by a delegation that included USC President C. L. Max Nikias and university trustees, senior administrators and deans.
“Over the past five years, USC has deepened our engagement with Mexico and CONACYT has become a wonderful partner. We are absolutely delighted to welcome 11 researchers from Mexico in the first year of our joint postdoctoral fellowship program,” said Anthony Bailey, USC vice provost for global initiatives.
USC’s Mexican student base has nearly quadrupled over the past four years as a result of increased focus on collaboration and research partnerships.
The answer to this first joint call has been an amazing start.
“We at CONACYT are more than delighted to have formed this partnership with such a prestigious institution as USC,” said Julia Tagüeña, CONACYT deputy director for scientific development. “The answer to this first joint call has been an amazing start, and the results reflect with no doubt the quality of the Mexican researchers and the commitment of USC to collaborate with Mexican counterparts in forming human resources that will have a direct impact on solving binational problems. We are more than confident that our collaboration will continue to grow.”
The newly arriving scholars:
- Already a Trojan, Socrates Munoz received his Ph.D. in chemistry from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences in May, following the completion of his BS in pharmaceutical chemistry and biology from the University of Guadalajara in 2009. At USC, Munoz worked with George Olah and G.K. Surya Prakash on sustainable synthetic methodologies and the synthesis of organofluorine small molecules for medical purposes. “He has a keen mind and was very good in the lab. Very independent,” Prakash said. Munoz will continue his work with Prakash in the field of medical fluorine chemistry.
- Julio Cesar Ignacio Espinoza is another recent graduate who has spent time in the United States. Espinoza received a Fulbright-García Robles Fellowship to pursue graduate work at the University of Arizona’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology, where he developed and applied bioinformatic, statistical, phylogenetic and visualization tools to study viral evolution in marine systems. He graduated in December and will work with Jed Fuhrman in biological sciences at USC Dornsife on studying the role of viruses in biogeochemical processes.
- USC Viterbi will receive Kenya Díaz Becerril, a chemist who studies the synthesis of metal-organic frameworks – compounds that have both organic and metal components, which can be used to store gases, among other things. Díaz completed her Ph.D. at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, later accepting a position as a postdoctoral researcher at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas in Spain. There, she studied composite materials as well as the synthesis of metal-organic frameworks, and their application in the adsorption and separation of gases. Díaz will work with the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Stephen Cronin, developing hybrid nanomaterials for the storage and transport of methane.
- Also heading to USC Viterbi is Rigoberto Castro, who received his Ph.D. from the Centro de Investigaciones en Óptica-León in Guanajuato in 2011. Since then, he’s held three postdoctoral positions – two in France and one Mexico – working on nonlinear optics, integrated optical devices and nanotechnology. “These positions have shown me novel multidisciplinary areas with an enormous potential of technological applications on subjects such as biomedicine and optical telecommunications,” Castro said. He will work with USC Viterbi’s Andrea Armani.
- Neuroscientist Ismael Fernandez-Hernandez will arrive in Los Angeles by way of Mexico, Switzerland and Spain. He received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at ITESO Jesuit University in Guadalajara in 2005, then earned a master’s degree from the Autonomous University of Madrid. His Ph.D. work, completed at the University of Bern in Switzerland, focused on the use of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism for experiments. Fernandez-Hernandez is interested in using the flies as an experimental platform to find genetic and pharmacological cues that may help the brain to counteract degeneration from aging or injury. At USC, he’ll be working with Michael Bonaguidi at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC.
- An investigator for the Epidemiological and Health Services Research Unit of the Mexican Social Security Institute, Katia Gallegos-Carillo will tackle public health issues with the Keck School of Medicine’s Jonathan Samet and Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati. Gallegos-Carillo connects lifestyle to the risk of contracting non-communicable diseases. She received her master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the National Institute of Public Health of Mexico and has published studies that relate lifestyle choices (think: physical activity and diet) to physical health and well-being, as well as interventions to increase physical activity levels among patients suffering from hypertension. Gallegos-Carillo will take advantage of her time in Los Angeles to conduct comparative studies between the U.S. and Mexico.
- Antonia Herrera-Ortiz also comes to USC from the field of public health. She’s an investigator with the Centre for Research on Infectious Diseases of the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico, where she received her Ph.D. in health sciences. Her research focuses on two major public health issues facing the world today: malaria and sexually transmitted infections. She’s currently performing epidemiological studies of STIs in populations including sex workers, youth and men who have sex with men, and men living with HIV; at USC she’ll work with the Keck School’s Shou-Jiang Gao to investigate the role of nitric oxide in Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus, a cancer-causing virus that particularly impacts individuals with AIDS.
- A public policy researcher with interests that span the entire continent, Iván Farías Pelcastre will spend his time at USC transforming his doctoral thesis, The Institutionalization of Regional Integration in North America, into a book manuscript. In it, he plans to propose a clearer understanding of the process of integration across Mexico, the United States and Canada. He argues that, “despite the absence of supranational bodies, current developments in the region give proof of the emergence of transnational policy arenas between the three countries, which most studies have failed to acknowledge.” He hopes his research will inform policymakers working to support, improve and expand the capacity of regional institutions in North America – promoting freer trade. Farías Pelcastre received his Ph.D. from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom and will work with Robert Suro at the USC Price School of Public Policy.
- Marcela Vélez, who received her Ph.D. from Mexico’s Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas del Noroeste, studies free radicals, oxidative stress – and sharks. Oxidative stress occurs when a cell isn’t able to rid itself of reactive species of oxygen, which can cause damage. Vélez analyzes indicators of oxidative stress in different types of fish, including mako sharks. At USC, she plans to work with Kelvin Davies of the USC Davis School of Gerontology to explore what types of physical processes are affected at the transcriptional – DNA – level by free radicals.
- Another biologist, Victor Alejandro Arias-Esquivel is headed to Los Angeles to work with USC Dornsife’s James Moffett on the evaluation of iron distribution at the Mexican Oxygen Minimum Zone, located off the Manzanillo coast. His working hypothesis is that the absence of oxygen increases the offshore transport of iron from the Mexican coast, making the region a major source of iron on its way to the interior of the eastern Pacific Ocean. Arias-Esquivel received his Ph.D. in oceanography from the University of Connecticut and was a research associate professor at Universidad del Mar and a postdoctoral fellow at Autonomous University of Baja California.
- José Bravo, who will work with Ralf Langen of the Keck School of Medicine, studies the way glycoprotein crystalizes when forming gallstones. Bravo earned his Ph.D. at Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla in Mexico and was attracted to Langen’s lab because of his structural biology research – especially in protein misfolding in diseases. Certain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, are described as “proteopathic,” meaning that they cause proteins to adopt abnormal structures that interfere with their ability to function properly. On Langen’s team, Bravo will study a specific type of misfolding that is associated with Huntington’s Disease.
“We are pleased to have recruited 11 postdoctoral scholars of this breadth and caliber our inaugural year,” said Elizabeth Graddy, vice provost for academic and faculty affairs. “It speaks to the high demand for research collaboration across countries and the quality of research being conducted by the fellows and USC faculty.”