Working towards the future

When I first arrived back to Mexico I decided it was time to explore new horizons and look for research topics more appropriate to the necessities of my new location. Dealing with arsenic appeared to be a very attractive topic considering the highly negative impact that this element has in Mexico. It hasn´t been easy to move from nuclear to environmental engineering, but it has been very enjoyable. I am far from being knowledgeable in the topic but I am fortunate to have two students and two colleagues (Reyes Sierra from Arizona and Joaquin Barroso from UNAM) with whom I keep learning. The more we experiment the more I wonder if what we do is really appropriate. When dealing with nuclear materials I knew the toxicity of what I was working with. When you think that you are going to put something in water and see if it works is not that simple. In nuclear technology I rarely considered the effect on the population as the material was always well contained. When this containment doesn´t exist, the novel materials used for environmental “remediation” might end up in systems beyond your original scenario. In the work we do we are planning to build up the first experimental water treatment plan in our Research Centre, nothing big of course, but this has made wonder if I have all the answers I need to know before we move forward to something this important.

Most of the work I see only focuses on seeing how much the materials we produce can adsorb arsenic, but you hardly see what effect that combination of adsorption material/arsenic can have on the environment, even worst, what are we going to do with them once they are saturated? Aren´t we just moving the problem from one place to another? The effect in plants, animals, micro-organisms, and containment efficiency are topics we need to cover before we move forward to more serious things. The objective of our work is not just to publish nice papers, but to look for tangible answers that can be of use for the population in Mexico. Even at this early stage of our work we are planning ahead to be ready to study possible negative effects of our materials considering off-normal conditions. I can´t deny I am looking forward to study how to contain our materials, the know-how learned in the nuclear sector I believe will be of great use, at the end I won´t be that far from home.

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