My main focus has been in the area of wood, but from a chemical standpoint. I’m trying to get some high value materials from wood for nontraditional applications. In general, wood has been used in construction a lot, which is high volume. So my focus is on what's less volume but high prices. So my concentration is going from a surgical area, from a medical area, from a packaging area and trying to get some chemical components to use in those areas.
Right now there is a huge problem with the plastic material in terms of their biodegradability. There are many issues from the environmental standpoint. So one possibility is to use biodegradable materials like polylactic acid. It’s not that good in terms of mechanical properties, so if we can add nanocellulose, we are able to improve the mechanical and antimicrobial properties. Using novel polymers or natural polymers in food packaging is one example. In the medical area, we’re finishing a proposal where we’re producing masks where we’re using biodegradable materials in combination with nanocellulosic materials.
We’re going to continue having these fights against viruses. We’ve already demonstrated that we can filter viruses smaller even than Covid-19. This is still unpublished work.
What jobs did you have before coming to WVU?
I graduated from the chemical engineering department at the University of Concepcion in Chile. Then, immediately after my graduation, I started working at the university in a department that was starting to be a liaison between academia and industry. It was a new building, new everything. I was working as a project engineer in the beginning and then I was head of one of the advanced materials areas. I was working there for 11 years or so. Then, I went to the University of Maine for my Ph.D.
What has been the best or most enjoyable time/class/moment in your education?
My best time was in high school. I remember having the possibility to really enjoy my time with my classmates, not only studying but also having fun. I remember having the possibility to do stuff together outside the classroom. I remember that we used to go on Sundays and do some walks together as a big group, as a class. I really like and miss that.
When I was doing my Ph.D., my best times were when I was able to be with my children after finishing some long test or examination. I enjoyed having them with me. Before going for my Ph.D, my only wish was having a family, having my children. After I got my children, I immediately went out for my Ph.D.
What has been the best or most enjoyable time/class/moment in your job?
There are many things, but what I enjoy the most is when my students are doing good. I really like when they can tell me that they’re happy because they finished something or they’re getting good grades. When they’re telling me - they’re probably telling this to all professors - that I was one of the best professors, I love that. I feel like maybe I did something good and I’m so happy for that.
What’s one thing you wish you had known in college?
If you won a billion dollars, what would you do with the money?
Money is not what moves me at all. I mean money is important. I really like traveling with my family. If I had a lot of money, I think I would create companies, small companies just to provide opportunities to people, especially here in West Virginia. I think by studying wood, I can see opportunities in any direction. We can do things that are not high volume, but small things and high prices. With those profits from the companies, I would travel.
Also, I would invest in education for little ones like summer camps. Fortunately, I had the money to pay for summer camps for my children. I knew that there were some children that didn't have the opportunity to go to a summer camp.
Finally, I would support any institution that is studying Alzheimers. I would support those initiatives because my father had Alzheimers. At that time, we didn’t know exactly what it was and we were with him to the end. We still need to develop a lot of research to get a cure or advance.
What were you most grateful for in 2020?
That’s an easy question. Having my small family safe and healthy here (husband and children) and also my big family in Chile.
What were you most excited for in 2021?
Hugging my family in Chile. We [planned] to go to Chile at the end of 2021. I [was] so excited to hug my little new niece [who was born] at the end of September, the daughter of my oldest nephew.
Just for Fun
What are you currently reading? Evolve Your Brain by Dr. Joe Dispensa
What’s your favorite meal? Seafood
What’s a song that you can listen to on repeat? I am Light by Indie Arie; Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen; Hoy ten Miedo De Mi by Fernando Delgadillo