Chemist Conjured Exciting Experiment at Age 10
Facundo Fernandez, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, was part of an international effort to halt the production of counterfeit anti-malarial drugs.
Credit: Gary Meek, Georgia Tech

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Name: Facundo M. Fernandez
Age: 37
Institution: Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Field of Study: Analytical Mass Spectrometry

What inspired you to choose this field of study?
Ever since I was an undergraduate, I realized that our ability to make discoveries relies on our ability to make accurate measurements. In chemistry, this translates into determining analyte concentration, evolution over time and spatial distribution with maximum sensitivity and selectivity.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
When I was interviewing for tenure track positions, my postdoctoral advisor told me to "just be myself". It worked!

What was your first scientific experiment as a child?
This is funny. When I was about 10 years old, I mixed some old paint, water, and every possible liquid I found in my dad's workshop in an old wine bottle. After playing with it for a while, I left it in the front patio under the sun. I forgot about it for many weeks. When I finally looked at this bottle again, I saw inside many crystals, precipitates, and films floating in it that shined beautifully under the sun. For a brief instant it looked as if there was something alive in this mix. I thought that I had created life from "inert chemicals"! Needless to say I was wrong, but I guess it was my childhood version of the Miller experiment.

What is your favorite thing about being a scientist or researcher?
I get to work with young people that are still curious and like to play.

What is the most important characteristic a scientist must demonstrate in order to be an effective scientist?
Creativity, perseverance, and openness to collaboration.

What are the societal benefits of your research?
We have developed ultrafast screening tools for assuring the quality of antimalarial drugs in developing countries. Recently, we used these tools to shut down a very large drug counterfeiting operation in Southeast Asia in collaboration with Interpol and the Chinese government.

Who has had the most influence on your thinking as a researcher?
Graham Cooks (Purdue University) and Dick Zare (Stanford University).

What about your field or being a scientist do you think would surprise people the most?
How much freedom you enjoy, and how much fun it can be.

If you could only rescue one thing from your burning office or lab, what would it be?
Without a doubt, my laptop and my external hard drive!

What music do you play most often in your lab or car?
When I'm writing for long hours, I listen to hard rock or heavy metal. If I've had too much caffeine, classical music (Beethoven or Schubert).

  • Malaria-Resistant Mosquito Developed

This researcher is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the federal agency charged with funding basic research and education across all fields of science and engineering.