Mexican Postdocs Welcomed

The researchers arrive as part of a new collaboration between USC and Mexico’s Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología.
ByRobert Perkins

USC and the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT) have announced the selection of 11 researchers from Mexico who will join USC this fall as part of a new initiative to jointly fund them as postdoctoral fellows for up to two years.

A trio of the scholars will work with faculty in chemistry and biological sciences at USC Dornsife. They are:

  • Socrates Munoz, who already is a Trojan, having received his Ph.D. in chemistry in May. At USC, Munoz worked with Nobel Laureate George A. Olah, Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Distinguished Professor of Organic Chemistry, and G.K. Surya Prakash professor of chemistry, on sustainable synthetic methodologies and the synthesis of organofluorine small molecules for medical purposes.

“He has a keen mind and was very good in the lab. Very independent,” said Prakash, who holds the George A. and Judith A. Olah Nobel Laureate Chair in Hydrocarbon Chemistry. Munoz will continue his work with Prakash in the field of medical fluorine chemistry.

Munoz completed his bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical chemistry and biology from the University of Guadalajara in 2009.

  • Julio Cesar Ignacio Espinoza, another recent graduate who has spent time in the U.S. Espinoza received a Fulbright-García Robles Fellowship to pursue graduate work at the University of Arizona’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology, where he developed and applied bioinformatics, statistical, phylogenetic and visualization tools to study viral evolution in marine systems. He graduated in December 2014 and will work with Jed Fuhrman, McCulloch-Crosby Chair in Marine Biology and professor of biological sciences, studying the role of viruses in biogeochemical processes.
  • Victor Alejandro Arias-Esquivel is headed to Los Angeles to work with James Moffett, professor of biological sciences, earth sciences and civil and environmental engineering, on the evaluation of iron distribution at the Mexican Oxygen Minimum Zone, located off the coast of Manzanillo, Mexico. His working hypothesis: The absence of oxygen increases the offshore transport of iron from the Mexican coast, making the region a major source of iron on its way to the interior of the eastern Pacific Ocean. Arias-Esquivel received his Ph.D. in oceanography from University of Connecticut and was a research associate professor at Universidad del Mar and a postdoctoral fellow at Autonomous University of Baja California.

One of the provost’s signature programs, the fellowship awards early-career scholars $68,000 per year to conduct cutting-edge research with established USC researchers, and was launched in March during a visit to Mexico by a delegation that included USC President C. L. Max Nikias and university trustees, senior administrators and deans.

“Over the past five years, USC has deepened our engagement with Mexico and CONACYT has become a wonderful partner. We are absolutely delighted to welcome 11 researchers from Mexico in the first year of our joint postdoctoral fellowship program,” said Anthony Bailey, USC vice provost for global initiatives.

USC’s Mexican student base has nearly quadrupled over the past four years as a result of increased focus on collaboration and research partnerships.

“We at CONACYT are more than delighted to have formed this partnership with such a prestigious institution as USC,” said Julia Tagüeña, CONACYT deputy director for scientific development. “The answer to this first joint call has been an amazing start, and the results reflect with no doubt the quality of the Mexican researchers and the commitment of USC to collaborate with Mexican counterparts in forming human resources that will have a direct impact on solving binational problems. We are more than confident that our collaboration will continue to grow.”

Eight more fellows join USC to study a range of subjects throughout the university.

  • Marcela Vélez, who received her Ph.D. from Mexico’s Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas del Noroeste, plans to work with Kelvin Davies of the USC Davis School of Gerontology to explore what types of physical processes are affected at the transcriptional — DNA — level by free radicals.
  • Neuroscientist Ismael Fernandez-Hernandez received his Ph.D. from the University of Bern in Switzerland. At USC, he’ll be working with Michael Bonaguidi at the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute in the Keck School of Medicine.
  • An investigator for the Epidemiological and Health Services Research Unit of the Mexican Social Security Institute, Katia Gallegos-Carillo will tackle public health issues with the Keck School’s Jonathan Samet and Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati. She received her master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the National Institute of Public Health of Mexico.
  • Antonia Herrera-Ortiz is an investigator with the Centre for Research on Infectious Diseases of the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico, where she received her Ph.D. in health sciences. At USC she’ll work with the Keck School’s Shou-Jiang Gao to investigate the role of nitric oxide in Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus.
  • José Bravo will work with Ralf Langen of the Keck School of Medicine to study a specific type of protein misfolding associated with Huntington’s disease. Bravo earned his Ph.D. at Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla in Mexico.
  • USC Viterbi will receive Kenya Díaz Becerril, who completed her Ph.D. at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, later accepting a position as a postdoctoral researcher at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas in Spain. Díaz will work with USC Viterbi’s Stephen Cronin.
  • Also heading to USC Viterbi is Rigoberto Castro, who received his Ph.D. from the Centro de Investigaciones en Óptica-León in Guanajuato in 2011. Since then, he’s held three postdoctoral positions — two in France and one Mexico. He will work with USC Viterbi’s Andrea Armani.
  • A public policy researcher, Iván Farías Pelcastre will spend his time at USC transforming his doctoral thesis into a book manuscript. Farías Pelcastre received his Ph.D. from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom and will work with Robert Suro at the USC Price School of Public Policy.

“We are pleased to have recruited eleven postdoctoral scholars of this breadth and caliber our inaugural year,” said Elizabeth Graddy, vice provost for academic and faculty affairs. “It speaks to the high demand for research collaboration across countries and the quality of research being conducted by the fellows and USC faculty.”

The call for applications will be held annually, and can be found on the USC and CONACYT websites.