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FERNANDO LOPEZ: A passion for chemistry surprised Lopez. Now he works to marry chemistry with his other passions: green technologies and social justice.

Bell Tower Magazine | Arts and Sciences | BT-CurrentOctober 20, 2022

Volunteer Research Leads to a Life of Advocacy

The hands-on nature of his education at UAFS continues to influence Fernando Lopez in his learning, career, and life.

Lopez graduated from the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith with a bachelor of science degree in Chemistry with a concentration in Biochemistry. Today, he attends the University of California at Los Angeles where he is doing important research into sustainable energy and social justice. 

That wasn’t always the plan, though.

Lopez began his education as a pre-medicine biology major. He quickly realized a passion for chemistry. But he wanted something more than class discussions and problems. 

So he began volunteering his time, participating in undergraduate research with Dr. Thaddeus Le-Vasicek, a visiting assistant professor at UAFS.

“What started as a novice research venture during my freshman year turned into a full-scale research project in my sophomore year, this time with the collaboration of Dr. (Jeremy) Durchman and his students,” Lopez said. “Our technical progress was noteworthy, but our real achievement was realized as exposure to science through hands-on experience.” 

Today Lopez is a Ph.D. student and research and teaching assistant at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he has a stipend and a fellowship covering his tuition and fees.  

Writing Dr. Paulette Meikle, Associate Dean and Professor of Sociology at UAFS, Lopez told his mentor he was excited about his prospects. 

“A lot of the professors are doing research that aligns with my interests – green chemistry, catalysis, biofuels, energy storage, etc.,” he wrote.  

Meikle explains Lopez’s current research, which she said is at the interface of inorganic chemistry and microbiology. 

“His goal is to expand on the work of his recently graduated mentor Dr. Bocheng Cao, whose research led to unprecedented performance in microbial fuel cells,” she said.

Meikle notes that Lopez has interests and plans outside the laboratory as well. 

“One of the things he appreciates the most about (Los Angeles) is the prominence of the Latinx community.”

He’s interested in introducing STEM education and careers to underrepresented minorities, especially the Latinx community, Meikle said.

Lopez wrote to Meikle, “I would also like to incorporate my interests in sustainability and racial justice by becoming involved with programs or individuals who study the effects of smog/pollution in urban areas and how it relates to minority groups.”