Stories#081 Arturo's playing with material structures

#081 Arturo's playing with material structures

The story of ana's awareness tour is a story of Arturo's playing with material structures

Ana Maria Bustamante Duarte is constantly looking for ways to open her colleagues’ eyes to matters of integrity, diversity and inclusion. To Arturo Susarey Arce, diversity is nothing new, despite him growing up in a small village in Mexico. Through his father’s work with tourists, Arturo quickly developed an interest in different cultures and ways of living. He became a citizen of the world himself and now gives back to young people in his home village. ‘Twice a month, I go online to teach primary school pupils. About science and other ways in which they can help society. I want to be there for those children who would like to see beyond the boundaries of their own community.’

Click for Dutch version

Monday 20 june 2022 

Sowing the seeds of science

Ana: ‘Arturo, I was reading about your work and background. It’s very diverse and very different from what I do. So I wondered what triggered you to do the things you do.’

Arturo: ‘Ha! There are two stories to answer that question, both very true. The first is that I went into industrial chemistry by mistake. I simply ticked the wrong box in the application form for my bachelor’s... The second story is that I have always liked chemistry. I am good at working with chemical formulas and synthesising materials. I got more and more passionate about chemistry during my bachelor’s. I discovered that I could really ‘play’ with molecules and materials. So I decided to keep going.’

Ana: ‘Your love for industrial chemistry has brought you to many places. How did you experience working and living all over the world?’

Arturo: ‘My dad works with tourists back home in Mexico. So when I was a kid, I interacted a lot with international people, mostly Canadians and Americans. Early on, I knew that I didn’t want to do what my father was doing, but I still wanted to know about different cultures and discover different ways of living and thinking. As an undergrad student, I didn’t get a fellowship to go to France as an exchange student. This really felt like I was at a crossroads. I could either stop trying and stay happily in my country. Or I could keep pushing. And that’s what I did. I became a citizen of the world. During my studies, I eventually went to Italy and Canada. I have also worked in Liverpool (United Kingdom) and Gothenburg (Sweden). But when I came to UT, it really was like coming home.’

Ana: ‘Cool! So you went to all these places, and it seems to me that you also work in very different disciplines, going from energy to health. How?’

Arturo: ‘Right. It all comes down to the structuring of materials to fulfil a specific function. These structures are designed on a very small scale, even smaller than a human hair, and have special properties. They are water or oil repellent, for example. Others have antibacterial qualities. And some of these structures can be used to generate energy from sunlight.’

‘Recently, with some colleagues, I created a spin-off company. The company is dedicated to producing special structures to grow human tissue models relatively quickly, reducing culture time compared to traditional methods. This is very useful in the treatment of rare tumors, for example. With a model of a rare tumor, you can do drug or toxicology tests to find the right dosage for a patient. That’s very cool because they can then receive proper treatment early. The technology is now being tested in different medical centers in the Netherlands and Italy, and pharmacy schools in the United Kingdom.’

Ana: ‘Interesting! How do you like being an entrepreneur?’

Arturo: ‘Well, I am a researcher at the end of the day. Before I started the company, I was pretty self-critical. I thought: I don’t know much about running a business. I have to learn a whole new language. But then I figured, I have been to so many different places and have done so many things; let’s just try this out. And UT offers excellent support to turn research into a commercial concept.’

Ana: ‘What have you learned so far?’

Arturo: ‘To communicate in a very different way about my research. People outside academia want to hear clear stories. They want to know how my novel technology can be used to make a profit… I hadn’t thought this way about my work in the past because I was focusing on doing research, mostly.’

“I had to learn to communicate in a very different way about my research”
Arturo Susarey Arce

Ana: ‘I find it fascinating that you mentioned communication. I was a consultant before I did my PhD and last year I became research support officer in ethics, integrity and data policy. So I’m kind of an advisor again but still also a little bit of a researcher. I have noticed that my biggest challenge also is communication. I ask myself: how do I communicate with my colleagues without going too deep into philosophical themes like ethics and integrity? I want to send out a clear message while being supportive; I don’t want to tell people how to do things, but let them know I am here to help.’

Arturo: ‘Yes, I can relate to what you are saying.’

Ana: ‘In all your work, I notice a focus on societal impact. Has this always been your purpose, or did it develop because of the type of work you were interested in?’

Arturo: ‘I really like this question! I have always wanted to help. Since I was a kid, that has been my driving force. I wanted to become a medical doctor. But I discovered I got frightened just by looking at blood, so I knew that that would not happen.’

Ana: ‘That happened to me too, ha ha!’

“I like to plant seeds, and to grow ideas, for others to harvest later”
Arturo Susarey Arce

Arturo: ‘So, later on, I discovered that I could help society in a different way. I like to use my talents to plant seeds, to make ideas grow and bloom for others to harvest later. And I don’t only mean my research or the products I help develop. My mom just retired from being a primary school teacher. Twice a month, I go online to teach science to some of her former pupils in my native village. It’s a tiny community and I want to make these students see beyond. To spark their interest, not necessarily for science, but for any way they can go and help society. I don’t want them to think: this is my village, and that’s it. Of course, that’s fine for those who really want to, but I want to be there for those who may want to do something else but are too shy to do it.’

Ana: ‘Wow! Thank you, Arturo, for your words and for this image.’

Dr. Ana Maria Bustamante Duarte (1988)

is a Research Support Officer in Ethics, Integrity, and Data Policy at the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation, ITC. In this role, she is concerned with the integrity of research, in which diversity, equity, and inclusion play a major role. As a postdoc at the UT, she conducted research into the social and spatial dynamics of informal economies and creative industries in urban kampongs in Bandung, Indonesia. Ana studied Architecture in Colombia, did follow-up work in Spain, and obtained her PhD in Geoinformatics at the University of Münster.

Dr. arturo susare arce (1981)

got his bachelor’s in Industrial Chemistry, and his master’s in Material Science and Engineering in Mexico. He spent time in Triest (Italy) and Montréal (Canada) during his studies. He came to UT to do his PhD-research, after which he was a postdoc at the University of Liverpool (United Kingdom) and Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg (Sweden). In 2018, Arturo rejoined UT. Now, he is an assistant professor. He teaches master’s and bachelor’s classes and together with his colleagues he has developed a new course in electrochemistry, specifically aimed at students who want to think like a researcher. Next to his job at UT, Arturo works at ENCYTOS, a spin-off company that provides rapid cell growth technology based on his research.