Five rural schools in five days

A few weeks ago we were visited by personnel from the Secretary of Education requesting our help to organise a science fair in five rural schools. We were thrilled with the idea of having contact with more schools and access to their students, which many times is not that easy.

The first trip to know these schools was tiresome as we visited them all in a single day. The feeling that I had during and after this visit was very complex. I was happy to see the happiness of all those kids and the hard work of directors and teachers alike, but really sad and even angry to see the conditions of some of those places. There are schools with only two teachers in towns with only a few houses, another one was a single secondary school in the area, where I was told, kids are picked up by the bus-school starting at 5 am so they can start classes at 8, a three hour trip!.

I can´t deny that the more I try to work in outreach activities the more I feel frustrated with the work I do. I wish I could spare more of my time and my students´ time to work with all those kids, however with all the projects ongoing I also need to focus on making sure I can deliver all the work and results that we promised and that my students graduate on time. I wonder how other scientists manage to do their work and still have time to these type of activities. I promised myself that I would try to focus on only a few things now that I have even less time with the arrival of my second son, but is really hard to say no when all you want to say is yes.

Anyway, we have a few weeks to prepare the experiments, so let´s get on with it.



Goodbye Abuelita Nico

The first few months of this year have been full of up and downs. In January I became father for the second time and last week I had the misfortune of losing four relatives in one week. Today after all the rush of travelling to see my parents and sisters finally the events of last week really got me. I found myself feeling worried about the future while having my little son on my arms.  Talks about obituaries, where you would like to be buried and such among cousins made me feel not that young anymore.

I lost one person who without knowing it helped me be who I am, my grandmother. Against all odds and with only the second year of primary education, she managed to raise almost by her own 8 children. She believed that education was the key for a better future and she incite her kids to study, to aspire for more. My mother learned from this and she passed this idea to me, that education was the key for success. Within two generations we went from someone with no education to the first person (me) with a PhD degree. I am where I am because she decided that enough was enough, that her kids deserved a better life. The life that I had as a kid and my sons have is way too different from what my mother and grandmother had to withstand in their times. The last time I saw her I tried to tell her this but I just couldn´t master the right words to say it.

Good bye Abuelita Nico.

Abuelita Nico

Another new member in our group

More than a month ago we received our fifth PhD student in our group. Sergio Eduardo Mancilla Salas is going to be working on the development of nanofluids for thermal solar energy. We are aiming at developing cost-effective top-down processing routes for the synthesis of carbon nanoparticles that can be tailored for its use in nanofluids. We are particularly interested in developing these nanomaterials using only local carbon/graphite raw materials, thus avoiding the dependency from other sources and developing materials with added value for the internal market.


Happy New Year!

A couple of days ago was the end of a fantastic year. Trips, projects with the industry, reunions with old friends and colleagues, the organization of a new symposium, outreach projects, new students and a couple of new grants, made last year a year to remember. Last year brought me so many new experiences, being part of the organization of a large consortium on Ocean Energy (CEMIE-Océano) was probably one of the highlights. I was honored when the main organizer, Dr. Rodolfo Silva Casarín, invited me to coordinate the section of Materials, Components and Systems. Since then I have tried my best to do a good job. The news that the project was accepted and awarded approximately US$18,000,000 made me and all the participants extremely happy. This project means a lot to me and I think my institution too because it will allow us to purchase a state of the art Transmission Electron Microscope, something that we were in huge need and which funding to buy it was hard to find.

Of course this hasn´t come cheap, I almost lost a second student, constant stress, long weeks and weekends and by the end of the year, endless reports to write and read, which meant valuable time away from my family. In a couple of days I will be father for the second time and I already have a long list of meetings and reports to submit all before January 15th.

This year will be different, for start I will have a second child, my group will change a lot. This year I am expecting to graduate two PhD and two MSc students, the first in what I hope will be a long list of students working under my direction. As a young scientist I still have a long way to go, many things to learn, relearn, try, loose and try. I am honored on counting with the collaboration of experienced colleagues from whom I keep learning on the way they work and even behave. I would like to openly thank Gregorio Vargas, Reyes Sierra and Rodolfo Silva, because probably without knowing it last year they made an important mark in my professional life. I also would like to thank three colleagues that made my days at work very enjoyable, Francisco García, Keny Ordaz and Juan Carlos Fuentes. Finally, I would like to say thanks to my students, if this group is successful is because of their hard work.

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.


SAMOFAR: The way forward to the ultimate safe nuclear reactor

The Molten Salt Fast Reactor is the only reactor that can efficiently consume thorium and process existing plutonium stocks as well. The fuel is dissolved in a molten fluoride salt that simultaneously serves as a coolant. By using thorium, the production of plutonium is reduced by a factor of one thousand which moreover remains circulating in the salt solution until it has been completely fissioned. This can reduce the required storage time of nuclear waste from 200,000 to less than 500 years.

Cooperation of leading institutes in Europe and beyond

SAMOFAR – Safety Assessment of the Molten Salt Fast Reactor – is a 5M€ project of the European Union research program Horizon 2020. The project consortium consists of 11 partners (CNRS, JRC, CIRTEN, IRSN, CINVESTAV, AREVA, CEA, EDF, PSI, KIT and TU Delft) exploiting each other’s unique expertise and infrastructure in the 4-year research programme. The grand objective of SAMOFAR is to prove the innovative safety concepts of the MSFR by advanced experimental and numerical techniques, to deliver a breakthrough in nuclear safety and optimal waste management, and to create a consortium of stakeholders to demonstrate the MSFR beyond SAMOFAR.

Besides the EU efforts in SAMOFAR, the consortium tightly connects with other large projects in China, Russia and the USA to exchange information, and to coordinate and share resources.

The project represents “the first step towards large scale validation and demonstration of the technology,” says Jan Leen Kloosterman, a professor of nuclear reactor physics at TU Delft and the coordinator of SAMOFAR. “We expect the project will lead to a large commitment from the nuclear community and industry towards the development of this new technology .”


At the end of August 2015 the kick –off meeting of the SAMOFAR project took place at Delft University of Technology with over 35 enthusiastic participants.

More information
Contact TU Delft: Prof. dr. ir. Jan Leen Kloosterman
Phone: +31 15 278 1191

SAMOFAR kick-off meeting

On August 24th the European project SAMOFAR had its official kick-off meeting at TU-Delf, the Netherlands. I had the great pleasure of meeting old friends and colleagues and getting to know new partners in this fascinating project. Considering that the experience of my group was centred on High Temperature and Fast Reactors (solid core), participating on these meetings was very enlightening, as not only showed us the current state-of-the-art but also the future trends on reactor, fuel and materials science and technology for the molten salt fast reactor.

I believe our work on the development of environmental barrier coatings for the structural Ni-alloys was well received,  to the point that it has been mentioned as an important goal in articles referring to SAMOFAR activities. There are questions regarding the ideal crystal structure, its behaviour under neutron irradiation, durability and corrosion resistance, however we expect to have some of these answers during the duration of this project. The collaboration with JRC-ITU and CNRS will be vital to get useful data for future developments. Internally at Cinvestav, I have the honour to work with Dr. Francisco García Pastor and Dr. Juan Carlos Fuentes Aceituno, who will study the mechanical and corrosion behaviour of metallic and ceramic components.

In January we expect the arrival of a foreign student that will work in this subject together with other PhD and MSc students. As they say, the future is bright! So let’s get to work and have some fun! Anyone interested to join us?

Samofar kick-off meeting

Samofar kick-off meeting

Our group keeps growing

Yesterday we had the great pleasure of receiving Hugo Rodríguez Meléndez, as our newest MSc student. Hugo is doing his MSc in Sustainability of Natural Resources and Energy at Cinvestav-Saltillo, and is going to be working on the use of graphene oxide for the elimination of arsenic in water.

Water pollution with arsenic is of great relevance in Mexico since half of the country has shown to have water wells contaminated with this element. Just in the area called “Laguna” in the state of Coahuila, where Cinvestav-Saltillo is based, it is estimated that 400,000 people are at risk due to high concentrations of this element in the drinking water. Although there is much to do before we can produce an efficient and selective absorbent for arsenic, we hope that the work we do here and that Hugo will do, will help us to achieve that goal.


Summer Students 2015

Like the previous two other years, this year we have received three undergraduate summer students. Tania and Luis are visiting us from Sinaloa, whereas Omar comes from Chihuahua.

It is always nice to have young and vibrant students with curiosity and genuine interest to learn new things. Last year I had the unfortunate experience of being sick most of the summer students´s visit, however this year it seems I will be able to interact more with them. Although, I cannot directly with them, I am sure they are in very good hands with my PhD students.

Apart from working doing experiments and analysis with my students they have the task of reading and posting short news in our facebook webpage. It is not an easy task to read a document and extract the most important information in a simple and understandable manner, thus this exercise I hope helps them to practice this important skill.

I hope they find their stay enlightening so in the future they can pursue postgraduate studies. We certainly will enjoy working with them.


IMG-20150622-WA0004 SAM_4104 Grupo 2015

Warm welcome to Juniet, MSc student in our group

At last! today we officially received a new MSc student in our group, Juniet Rebeca Gaitán Arévalo. Juniet not only is our first MSc student but also is our first international student since she comes from Nicaragua. She selected working with us on the development of nanomaterials to tackle noise pollution. We expect great things from her and her arrival brings me a great responsibility as supervisor. I hope she enjoys workings with us, and who knows, maybe in the near future she can join our group as PhD student.

Juniet IMG_20150629_130316