Once upon a time there was a sorcerer in Bargota. It is called Johanes and was priest, magician and alchemist. It is said that he learned the occult arts in Salamanca while studying to become a priest. Once back in his village, which is very close to here, just across the Ebro, he performed all kinds of wonders. It is said that in the middle of August I was walking covered in snow after flying back from the Oca Mountains and travelling to faraway places on a cloud. It was he who helped the most famous Riojan bandit, Juan Lobo from Logroño.He transformed him into a cat so that he could get rid of his pursuers.
La Rioja and these fertile lands, full of history, have always been a place for the magic of transmutation and the alchemy of essences.What else is the metamorphosis of must into wine? There is no chemistry more full of life and joy than that which changes sugars into alcohol.
Also from Logroño are the D'Elhuyar brothers who knew how to extract its metal from wolfram lime in the forges of the Royal Seminary of Vergara. The monks of the great monasteries that illuminated the best pages of the medieval history of La Rioja were also experts in plants and their distillates, in the transformation of salts and in the manufacture of all kinds of remedies.
And although it is true that La Rioja is the land with the name of wine and the cradle of Castilian, it is no less true that it is also the birthplace of the Castilian language. land of science.
I wanted to be a chemist before I knew what chemistry was.. And then one day I discovered that my childhood games were not mischief, as I was told, but signs of an early vocation for science.
What the explosions, the dissolutions, the thousand and one smells and the coloured fires that I enjoyed so much were something called chemistry. and which consists of mixing, separating, decanting, transforming and creating all kinds of substances... the closest thing there is to magic.
Villamediana was my playground, my natural laboratory, a lost paradise of children who run, play and explore in the street without limits or worries. Nothing of what I am would be if I had not been a country boy, and gone down to drink at the fountain, and climbed up to the bodegas, and run through Valdecarros and walked along the Iregua. There I was able to play, explore, test, invent and tinker to my heart's content.
And in case I lacked encouragement, my grandparents' cinema became my castleIn my secret watchtower, in my magic kingdom where I let my imagination fly. In the projection booth, a small space full of reels, there was a machine that emitted a powerful beam of light which, when it hit the screen, scattered in bursts of colour that filled the room with incredible stories that made us cry, dream and laugh.
In the Ideal cinema in Villamediana I saw, lived and dreamt a thousand and one adventure films, cowboys, Romans, space films, pirates, dragons, musketeers, giants, medieval knights and princesses who were betrothed. I feel that I have never stopped being the boy scout, the kid scout and the dreamer that I was in my childhood. And being a scientist is a bit like being a child, that is, exploring, inventing, testing and dreaming..., and thus, like Peter Pan, never growing up so as to be able to keep travelling again and again to Neverland.
I am a Riojan, not only because I was born here, but because I am here with my people, in my land, with my flavours, smells and the memories of my childhood, but also because I am here with my people, in my land, with my flavours, smells and the memories of my childhood, but also because I am here with my people. Alicante is and has been my home since my parents established their family residence there.. There is no warmer, more welcoming and luminous land. Undoubtedly, Alicante is the best land in the world.
I have never felt strange in Alicante; on the contrary, I have always felt loved, welcomed and part of a land that makes everyone its own. There is no contradiction between being both a Riojan and an Alicante citizen, because there is no place in Spain that is foreign to meI am indifferent, indifferent, or alien. I am also from Soria and Zaragoza, because I have family from there, and Galician, because I lived there for some years, and even in the corners of Spain where I have never been because I share history, destiny and luck with all of them..
The University of Alicante gave rigour and method to my early vocation for science. There I studied with the professors who are now my colleagues. For years now I have had the immense pleasure of teaching in the same classrooms where I learned what I teach today. Nothing can compare to the feeling of sharing what you have learned, of being part of the invisible chain of knowledge that links teacher and student. as if it were a succession of links that are generations united by knowledge and study.
Thanks to the University of Alicante for everything it has given me and for how much I receive from it every day. And without a doubt, I receive much more than I deserve, because in reality my achievements are those of the team I leadI should say that I say I lead, because they are Elena y Noemi the people who make possible the research we carry out in the molecular nanotechnology laboratory.
After my PhD, I went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I arrived at Boston a couple of days before the attacks on the 11 September. I will never forget those moments. On the computer screens we followed the events minute by minute. In silence and awe we watched the twin towers fall. Then we were evicted.
My nearly three years at MIT were the most transformative experience of my life.. Not only because of what I learned (which was a lot), nor because of the brilliant people I worked with, but because it changed my vision of research. At MIT I understood, not because anyone told me about it, but because I saw it with my own eyesThanks to entrepreneurship, it is possible to make the discoveries we make in the laboratory available to everyone.
Rive Technology has been the most important project I have ever undertaken. We raised over 80 million dollars, employed 50 people and generated dozens of patents, but what is really incredible is that we succeeded in putting our catalysts in chemical plants all over the worldAnd not even the wizard of Bargota!!!!
In fact, I recall that, on one occasion, a senior executive from British Petroleum he asked me about what we were doing at Rive Technology. I told him that we had discovered a new catalytic converter that worked much better and also reduced CO2 and that we had created a company to sell this technology to the big petrochemical multinationals. I can still hear him laughing. When he finished, he said, "You don't know what you're saying. These companies invest millions of dollars in research and have huge teams of experts. It is impossible to improve these catalysts".
I certainly wasn't aware of the difficulty of what we were doing, but that's precisely why we were doing it. we need more entrepreneursbecause they do not stop in the face of great challenges, they do not see insurmountable obstacles and, above all, they do not allow others to crush their dreams.
And there I was in Boston, knowing no one, with no contacts, no resources, with a grant that barely covered my expenses, setting up a company to change the catalyst used in the world's largest petrochemical process. Is it possible to be more oblivious?
The truth is that I only had some very preliminary results, but a former professor at MIT, Larry Evansand a graduate of the business school of the same university, Andrew DoughertyThey believed in me and we soon got down to work. With a lot of effort and in a short time we managed to validate my technology and with it the necessary funding to launch our company.
At that point, I left MIT and went to Oklahoma to work with Marvin Johnson. A young man in his 70s with more than 250 patents and all the experience I didn't have. And instead of retiring, Marvin decided to spend his later years inventing, exploring and discovering. Together we worked passionately and tirelessly to do what many told us was impossible.This is to introduce mesoporosity into the porous structure of the zeolites.
Let me explain, catalysis is the most powerful magic because with it we can make nature bend to our will, to the point that it produces what we want and not what would otherwise happen. Catalyst acts as a procurer that brings together those who don't know each other in the right place at the right time for love to emerge and bear the desired fruit. That's what I call good chemistry. Well, the question is obvious If they are so useful, why don't we use catalytic converters more?
In fact, we use them a lot, as much as we can. In fact, catalysts are used in the manufacture of the vast majority of chemicals. But there is an important limitation, namely that current catalysts have very narrow channels and many of the molecules we want to transform are very large.. Put simply, our technology consists of introducing large channels into the catalysts so that any molecule, no matter how bulky, can gain access to their interior and thus be transformed.
In a way, what we are doing is opening the doors of catalysis to larger and more complex molecules. For example, we have developed catalysts capable of producing drug intermediates that help inhibit the growth of cells in cases of leukaemia or that transform plastics into fuels and feedstock for the chemical industry. All these processes involve huge molecules.
But, without doubt, the most important project and the one we have been working on for the longest time is reduction of CO2 of the petrochemical industry. Obviously, it has been a huge challenge but today our technology is marketed by the multinational company GRACE which, thanks to the introduction of channels in the catalytic cracking catalysts, achieves what until now seemed impossible, that is, to produce more olefins, more gasoline and less coke.
In this way, in a medium-sized refinery, profitability is increased by about $5 million per year while at the same time emissions by 25,000 tonnes.2. Recently, the multinational Shell has announced that it is using our catalysts in 7 hydrocracking units, significantly improving the efficiency and sustainability of its chemical plants.
I still find it hard to believe that a young man of only 29, who had no experience, no reputation, no contacts and no idea how to set up a company, was capable of it, with the help of many peopleto develop a new catalyst now being used by the big multinationals in the sectorThe European Commission, which effectively spends millions of dollars to improve its catalysts but does not allow its teams of experts to dream, explore and discover, in a word, to dare to try the seemingly impossible.
A few years later, I returned to Spain. I soon missed that passion and ambition that I enjoyed so much at MIT and which, in the end, was what encouraged me to create Rive Technology. That is why, I felt the need to create communities of talented young people who want to do great things. here in Spain, so that they would not have to leave our country to make their dreams come true. That is what moved me to create Celera with some of the money I received when I was given the King Jaime I Prize and with the enthusiastic and continuous support of the Rafael del Pino Foundation.
Celera is a completely free programme, which every year selects 10 young people to give them training, contacts, opportunities and a community to grow together. There is no project that I am more proud of or that I consider more my own. The almost 100 young people who have passed through Celera are each and every one of them a personal project, a commitment and a hope. Their stories inspire me and their successes feel like my own.. At Celera we don't ask for anything in return. It is a gift. It is radical generosity and a personal and shared project to build a better country, one person at a time.
With Celera I have learned something that I already sensed. That real change is made by people. That technology, public policies and grand plans are undoubtedly important, but that the future is about engagement, networks of talent and generosity.
From this same conviction was also born the Young Academy of Spain. In this case, we are working to recognise, make visible and give a voice to the most talented young researchers in our country. Again, many told us that it would be impossible because in the entire history of Spain only 15 National Academies have been created.
Others predicted that we would never get the necessary resources and that we would soon have to give up, but what they all kept telling us was that if we could attract the brightest young people to the Academy, that they would would not spend a minute on it because they would be totally focused on their career and would have no time for others.
Again, the doomsayers were wrongand the 50 young people who are part of the Academy dedicate a good part of our time to organising courses, conferences and workshops and mentoring those starting out in their research careers. so that they do not take their first steps in science alone. These steps are very hard, not only because of the difficulty of the research itself, but also because of the precariousness in which our young researchers, the most brilliant and committed, live. earn little more than the national minimum wage.
That is why many of them see themselves as doomed to leave our country or even to abandon their vocation.. If we want to be a better country, more competitive and master of its future, and not a subordinate and ancillary country that depends on others to invent, we must invest not only in science, but also in scientists, especially the younger ones.
Going into science has been the best decision I ever made in my life.. It has allowed me to explore, create and invent without limits or boundaries, but, above all, it has given me permission to be confused and to doubt. Science is a useful and safe method to confirm or disprove hypotheses, but its power is not extinguished when we close the laboratory door. Submitting our beliefs to the rule of evidence removes us from error and frees us from our biases..
This commitment to truthThe path of change, often difficult and uncomfortable, is in fact a way of life, which makes us - if not happier - then freer, more aware and more in charge of our future. Obviously, it is an arduous path because we all prefer a lie that comforts us to a truth that disproves us and requires us to.
Unfortunately, these ideas that inspired the Illustration do not govern our time in which artificial intelligence coexists with radical fanaticismThe EU's new globalisation process, in which scientific evidence is ignored and subordinated to our beliefs, judgements and opinions, is a place where sustainable development goals are linked to war and terrorism.
Knowing the cause and even the solution to our problems does not mean that we know or want to make the necessary changes to improve things. Human beings are much more complex than that, and that is why we need, not just more science, but better people and better leaders to think of others before they think of themselves.
And speaking of leadership, who would have told me when I was a brat struggling to study chemical nomenclature, the valencies of the elements and the periodic table that I would one day lead the world's governing organisation for chemistry. Being president of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) has been the most complex, satisfying and fulfilling professional experience of my life.
It has allowed me to give direction, mission and structure to an organisation with more than 100 years of history. At the General Assembly that we have just held at The Hague We have significantly streamlined IUPAC's governance, incorporated the international network of young chemists into our structure, and advanced our commitment to sustainability and diversity. At IUPAC, we fund more than 180 research projects worldwide. In addition, we are developing a new chemical language specifically designed for machines to read, write and interpret chemistry.
But the achievement at the helm of IUPAC that I am most proud of is the translation of the main chemistry texts into Spanish. To be global, science must be spoken in all languages. Because science only in English feels distant, strange and alien. Thanks to the efforts and the good work of teachers Pascual Román Polo y Efraím Reyes chemistry students, teachers and professionals have their science available in clear, up-to-date and rigorous Spanish in a single work, published by the University of La Rioja and accessible free of charge at Dialnet.
With the same generosity, the University of all the men and women of La Rioja confers on me today the degree of honorary doctorateI receive this recognition as a personal commitment to academic rigour and intellectual excellence, which I live with renewed enthusiasm because of my university vocation.
This honorary doctorate, which unites me and integrates me into the Senate of the University of La Rioja, is a definitive and joyful link with this universityI carry in my heart, and in which I have so many good friends. For more than 15 years I have been working with them on various research projects. One of the results of this collaboration has been a new method for the manufacture of hybrid materials which is based on the use of ligands with silane-terminal groups that coordinate with different metals to incorporate different types of chemical functionality into metal oxides.
Thanks to this new technique we have been able to manufacture, together with other partners, most efficient low temperature photovoltaic cellsThe new technologies include more active and reusable photocatalysts and even biomarkers for tumour cell lines in lung and cervical carcinoma.
The best, most useful and interesting science is done with friends who share a passion for research. and who are not afraid to embark on projects that mean doing new things because it is precisely at the margins of science that wonderful things happen.
Also at the University of La Rioja - and with friends with whom I share my passion for history, research and science - we also organised the summer school which is the oldest, most complete and diverse of all the courses on the history of chemistry in our country. For 17 years now, we have been disseminating and celebrating the life and work of the great scientists who gave shape, structure and mission to our discipline.
And we enjoy what we do so much that we have passed our passion on to a group of young students who, encouraged by our example, have decided to create their own group, VayaElementos are called, to go on missions throughout La Rioja to share the good news of science with the youngest.
The witchdoctor of Bargota was denounced by the Brotherhood of the Harquebusiers of Torralba and brought to LogroñoHe was imprisoned in the dungeons of the Inquisition. He was spared the purifying fire, but five men and six women were burnt in the auto de fe that took place in 1610 very close to here, a few metres from the church of San Bartolomé. Their crime was to question dogmas and dare to think and live as free men and women..
Today I want to remember them and to vindicate here those who think differently, those who doubt, those who ask themselves why things happen and are not satisfied with simple answers.. Thank you, thank you very much to all those who dare to do what others consider strange, inconvenient, wrong, improbable, or simply impossible. Thanks to those who are not discouraged by the doomsayers, to those who build, invent, create, explore, discover and undertake.. For it is they who, with effort and intelligence, open new paths to knowledge and who, with the light of reason, dispel the darkness of ignorance.
Today in La Rioja there is no longer a Tribunal of the Holy Office but a young university. In its classrooms, auditoriums, lecture halls and laboratories, it teaches, educates and encourages to think of the next generation of witches and wizards of Bargota. And that is the university of which, as of today, I am a part.
And the fact is that Who wouldn't have wanted to be the sorcerer of Bargota to fly on a cloud to the Oca mountains? I certainly do, and play bandits with Juan Lobo and discover wolfram with the D'Elhuyar brothers in the transforming fires of Vergara.
Because the future belongs to those who are not afraid, to those who are like children, to dreamers, to explorers who see no frontiers, to those who dare, to those who make mistakes, to those who doubt and to those who, after falling down, get up with bloody knees. to continue running through the fields of Villamediana.
Thank you very much