Hacking the Carbon Cycle: César Urbina-Blanco a Real Scientists

We hope you enjoyed Brain Awareness Week and our tree excellence curators! We’re heading over to Belgium now, to meet our new curator, Dr. César A. Urbina-Blanco.

Dr. César A. Urbina-Blanco (@Cesapo) is a Postdoctoral Researcher from Venezuela, currently working in Ghent, Belgium. He studied Chemistry in Universidad Simón Bolívar, Venezuela and completed his PhD in Organometallic Chemistry and Catalysis in the University of St Andrews (Scotland) where he worked on the development of commercial olefin metathesis catalysts. He then worked as Postdoctoral Research on the field of Green Chemistry in RWTH Aachen University (Germany), and is currently working as a PostDoctoral Researcher on the field of sustainable chemistry and CO2 utilization in the Laboratory for Chemical unnamedTechnology of Ghent University.  Here’s César in his own words.

 

I knew since I was young that I just loved science! I probably never had a real choice as my mother is a high school science teacher :P. Jokes aside, what really got me into science was participating in the Venezuelan Science Olympics, I went all the way from the National to the International Chemistry Olympiads and there was no going back! I discovered how much I loved chemistry and that I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing that.

 

I had a really hard time deciding in which field I wanted to work, I just think all chemistry is great (except one field which out of respect I won’t mention, #AnalyticalChemistryIsBoring!) I chose to work on Organometallic Chemistry and Catalysis because it is pretty much a combination of all chemistry disciplines. I love to be able to change the focus of my research continuously and this field allows me to do just that, sometimes I can spend more time playing with metals, and sometimes I can do some organic chemistry and try to discover new reactions, the perfect combination for the indecisive! In addition, catalysis is extremely important: from the production of bulk chemicals to pharmaceutical compounds, the use of catalytic reactions is ubiquitous in industry. This gives me the opportunity to not only do fundamental research, to understand what happens to molecules in the lab, but to do applied research and work on world problems creating new catalysts that could be implemented in industry.

 

I am currently trying to establish my own research group within the Laboratory for Chemical Technology of Ghent University. My research focuses on answering the question of how to continue the production of polymers without generating a negative impact on nature. Polymers are ubiquitous to human activities, from plastic grocery bags to mobile phones, polymers are all around us. Their ever-growing demand represents a significant sustainability challenge for the future, especially for polymers made from oil derived starting materials (monomers). My goal is to change the polymer industry by affecting the way we make monomers by using renewable resources and CO2. Imagine what if instead of oil, we could use CO2 to make polymers! That clothes or hygiene products such as diapers could be made out of CO2 ! I want to tackle the sustainability problem in the polymer industry from its root, by developing new synthetic routes to access commercial oil derived monomers as well as in the development of new catalysts for the synthesis of polymers from waste products.

 

unnamed-1Four words: CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL! The discovery of efficient technologies enabling the use of carbon dioxide as a starting material for chemical synthesis is one of the biggest scientific challenges of our time. Carbon dioxide capture and utilization (CCU) has been recognised by the European Chemical Industry Council and by the European Union as one of the top research priorities of the EU to reach its 2050 climate objectives in a cost-effective way. Human activities have altered nature’s carbon cycle, resulting in increased concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, leading to climate change and acidification of the oceans. New technologies could serve the dual purpose of reducing CO2 emissions and producing value-added chemicals using CO2 as a C1 building block, hence helping the environment while creating new opportunities for the chemical industry.

 

I volunteer for the Venezuela Association of Chemistry Competitions (@Avoquim). They are an amazing organisation that aims at promoting science and chemistry in my home country. My work with them involves all sort of stuff, from crowdfunding to developing teaching material and test for the Chemistry Olympiads. This year I will be accompanying the Venezuelan Team as a Mentor in the International Chemistry Olympiads (IChO) to be held in Thailand. I am also one of the communication officers for Ghent University Postdoc Community (@PostDoCUGent). The Postdoc Community is a fantastic initiative to create awareness and provide support for proactively developing the careers of PostDocs, “the middle man of academia”

 

I love music, I used to be a member of “El Sistema”, The Venezuelan system of youth orchestras, I played the Viola since I was six years old. Recently I started learning to play the Ukulele, I just love how it sounds. I also really enjoy drawing and photography.

 

The perfect day off would be lying on a Venezuelan beach enjoying the sunshine. I love to sleep, just let me nap there under an umbrella and wake me up when my grant applications get accepted 😛

 

Please welcome César to Real Scientists!

 

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