Gabriel dos Passos Gomes
IBM PhD Scholarship
I was a curious kid, perhaps like most scientists were as youngsters. I would ask my dad how TVs work or why cars needed gas. My dad did not always have the answers to my unstoppable questions. Until I was 19 years old, I lived in a small town in the countryside of Brazil; scientists were not a reality of my childhood. But that desire to understand the world around was always there. Trying to find some answers, I enrolled in a chemistry technician course during high school where I learned the basics of laboratory techniques. I learned why cars needed gas and much more, yet that was not enough. I wanted to understand how nature really talks. Against all the odds, I decided to be the first in my family to go to college.
In 2008 I began my B.Sc. in Chemistry at one of the top universities in Latin-America: The Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). In the first week of classes, our organic chemistry professor began the class by stating “All of chemistry is inside this Schrödinger Equation, all you need to do is solve it!” I was on the edge of my chair, both exhilarated and nervous. How could everything be solved by one equation? After receiving an A in that class, I was invited by Prof. Esteves to pursue research in his lab, where I worked for 4 years.
A new turn of events changed my life in 2014: I was selected to be a visiting scholar at FSU, through the Latin American Student Education and Research (LASER) program, and to work at the Alabugin Group for two months. As a physical organic chemistry aficionado who aimed to pursue a career as a professor in that area, it was a chance to work with some of the best minds in the field. Nonetheless, this internship yielded two papers. I followed up my short appointment by applying for the doctoral program in chemistry at FSU and when accepted, I was thrilled to continue my work with Dr. Alabugin and his team.
I am starting my fourth year this Fall. I have collaborated with a very talented group of people in numerous projects in the Alabugin Group since beginning my term at FSU and that has led us to some important publications. In addition to furthering my skills as a computational chemist, it is exciting to have the opportunity to apply those abilities on so many difficult problems. Right now, I am not only collaborating within our group, but also with researchers in Russia, Australia, Japan, and other universities in the U.S.
In 2016, I was awarded the IBM PhD Scholarship and we have been working together with IBM Research, CA on understanding of the new polymerization mechanisms. This collaboration, a first for FSU, was recently published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications. The impact of this scholarship on my career cannot be overstated: not only was I able to obtain some external funding assistance, our collaboration with IBM provided me the opportunity to work on complicated problems with a more applied approach.
I strive to understand how chemical reactions work and how molecules behave. In order to do so, I must essentially learn how to interrogate nature and that is what one does as a researcher. That curiosity brought me to pursue a PhD degree in Chemistry and I am really happy to be doing that at a such enthusiastic environment that FSU has.
I would like to help further our knowledge in Organic Chemistry, to keep pushing the boundaries. And I would love to help train the future generations of scientists that will themselves push their boundaries. The career that would allow me to do all that would be a university researcher and professor and that is what I aspire to become.