Orestes obtained his MSc. and Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Seville-CSIC (Spain) under the supervision of Dr. Salvador Conejero, working on the development and study of 14 electron Pt(II) complexes stabilized with N-heterocyclic carbene ligands.
- Dear Orestes, Can you briefly introduce your research interests to our readers?
Currently, my interests are to use molecular transition metal complexes for renewable energy storage. My specific project aims to transform renewable electrical energy (such as those produced from wind or solar power stations) into chemical energy. For this purpose, we first design and synthesize organic molecules containing one or more transition metal atoms, which will be responsible to promote the reaction. The molecules synthesized will be used as catalysts, to transform carbon dioxide into highly reduced carbon products such as methane, methanol and organic compounds with higher carbon content.
- You are currently a postdoc (funded by JSPS) at the Okinawa Institute of Technology. Can you tell us a bit about the circumstances that led you to work in Japan?
Before joining OIST I was doing my postdoctoral stay at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel. At that time, I was working on molecular iron catalysts to promote environmentally friendly catalysts under the guidance of Prof. David Milstein. My future host professor was one of my colleagues there. When she was appointed as Assist. Prof. at OIST, we had some discussions that resulted in me joining her group as her first postdoc to start a new challenging project related with the development of multi-metallic complexes. At OIST, I found a great opportunity and facilities to advance in my research that was fully funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, JSPS.
- Anticipating the end of your contract, you applied with success to a grant within the newly launched French programme ‘Make Our Planet Great Again’. Congratulations! Can you let us know what type of grant you applied for, and the reason why you applied for it?
I started to think of the next academic position when I had one year left in my contract. I started to imagine ways to combine my knowledge on ligand synthesis and complexes formation with the potential that electrochemistry has in renewable energy related processes. I searched for potential research labs working on electrochemistry, by reading research articles and reviews. Also, I had some fruitful discussions with old colleagues. After some time, I decided to contact the group of Prof. Marc Robert from the
Laboratoire d'Electrochimie Moléculaire‘ (LEM) lab, belonging to the French research institute CNRS. I was planning to apply to different fellowships and grants with him. However, after our research talks, he suggested me reading about the MOPGA call and see if I was interested in it. After reading about it took me 5 minutes to consider applying. The conditions were great!
- How was the application process? How much time and effort did you spend to finalise your application?
The application process consists of 2 steps. The first consisted of filling out an application form focused on the CV and experience of the researcher. This includes research stays abroad, research articles, conferences, mentoring, etc. The second focused on the research project. Once I passed the first step I worked hard to prepare a suitable research proposal (6 pages divided mainly on context-methodology-integration in the host lab). Unluckily, I had my holidays already booked and paid for before the MOPGA call even existed. Consequently, I spent the last Christmas writing and reading the entire time. My family helped me a lot. My wife and my parents in Sevilla were taking care of my daughter and my mother in law in Jerusalem was making me coffees the entire time. The last sentences of the proposal were written at the international airport in Hong Kong after 15 hours of flight! It did not feel like holidays at all, but it was completely worth it when I received the notice that my application was successful.
Make Our Planet Great Again is a French initiative launched on 1st June 2017 following the decision of the United States to leave the Paris Agreement. It is a call to researchers and students, entrepreneurs, associations and NGOs, students and all civil society to mobilize to lead the fight against global warming.
- Would you say that your research stay in Japan improved your chances at securing the grant?
Yes. On the one hand, during my postdoc here in Japan I started to have other “chemical curiosities” that led me to build the project that was awarded. Additionally, I was awarded twice with a JSPS postdoctoral fellowship (which forced me to write several proposals). Moreover, I took an active role in setting up the lab at OIST, which aided me to become assertive, acknowledging the importance of management and organization within a research lab, including equipment set up and maintenance.
- While being based in Japan, how did you keep/create ties with your next host institution in Europe?
I contacted Prof. Marc Robert because of the very nice publications that he and his team have. Every time I wanted to learn some aspects of electrochemistry, one of his or his colleague’s articles came across. He was the first professor on my list when I decided to start applying to my next position. I wrote him a sincere e-mail and after a couple of Skype meetings we decided to apply to the grant. To be honest, during my stay in Japan I focused more on building a Japanese network. I attended for example the Chemical Society of Japan Annual Meetings, where I could interact with my Japanese colleagues and learn from their different approachs on chemical design and synthesis.
- What would be your advice to other researchers looking to apply for a similar grant programme?
I always have in my head the song from AC/DC “It’s a long way to the top (if you wanna rock ’n’ roll)”. I listen to it after a grant/article/fellowship is successful or is rejected. Thus, aim high and never give up on your goals. Besides motivation, there are many other factors to take into consideration when considering application to a grant programme. A very important one is to understand from where the funding comes and what the funder wants to achieve. Therefore, adapt and use your skills and expertise to the needs of our society. Finally, we must be resilient! “the academic pathway is a marathon, not a sprint” my PhD advisor, Dr. Salvador Conejero, would say.
Orestes, thank you very much for your time and good luck in your continued career in Europe!