PROLOGUE: When it comes to classics discovered, it doesn’t get much better than the lost Lennon tapes or the Zapruder film. Last week, an email out of the blue from University of Texas at Arlington chemist Alejandro Bugarin ’07 inquiring about a past feature story that never ran prompted a file search which ultimately resulted in the resurrection of this 2011 treasure, just in time to close out Texas A&M Chemistry’s yearlong celebration of 50 years of chemistry excellence and five decades as a department within the Texas A&M College of Science.
Alex, here’s to never giving up on the play or your dreams and to helping us fulfill our end of the bargain, six years after the fact. Consider yourself credited with the assist on this overdue goal!
Now, back to our regularly scheduled October 2011 programming and the story, as it was written and meant to be reported back then. …
Alex Bugarin’s approach to research and teaching isn’t much different from the way he approaches a game of soccer: Aim for the goal every single time.
That same simple but effective logic helped the soccer enthusiast and former Texas A&M University doctoral student in chemistry earn a prestigious U.S. Senator Phil Gramm Doctoral Fellowship recognizing scholarly excellence. Bugarin ’07, now a postdoctoral researcher for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), was one of seven students selected for the award in spring 2011.
“For me, the fellowship has a lot of meaning, not only because of my work, but because it has motivated me to continue my research,” Bugarin said. “It made me truly believe hard work is recognized and pays off.”
Bugarin’s former colleagues and mentors attribute his achievement to a voracious work ethic. As a standout member of organic chemist Dr. Brian T. Connell’s research group, Bugarin’s work was focused on the development of new methods to construct carbon-carbon bonds, utilizing transition metals as a catalyst — knowledge that is vital to the synthesis of natural products for pharmaceutical use. His methodology was so insightful, it was featured in four peer-reviewed publications, including the Journal of Organic Chemistry, and his techniques frequently are utilized by other chemists.
“Alex has a passion for chemistry and the ability to see research projects through to their conclusion,” Connell said. “Several times during his research, Alex ran into what appeared to be insurmountable problems, but he used his knowledge and creativity, combined with his strong work ethic, to develop clever solutions.”
Texas A&M chemist Dr. Simon W. North first met Bugarin when his research group joined Connell’s in collaboration on a number of projects several years back. Although North’s group was focused on atmospheric chemistry and the inner-workings of the ozone layer, he said their projects often required the use of chemical compounds that required synthesis. Bugarin become a major asset for them, taking time out from his own work to synthesize and purify the tiny compounds North’s group needed to complete their experiments.
“Without his assistance, we would not have been successful,” North said. “This represented only a side project for Alex, and he was able to complete the work in a short period of time.”
Bugarin became just as respected by students in the classroom as he was by scientists in the lab. At different periods during his six years at Texas A&M, Bugarin was an organic chemistry teaching assistant and found personal satisfaction in sharing his knowledge with others.
“I always try to make the students interested in the topics, because when people think about chemistry, they assume it’s going to be a hard class,” Bugarin said. “But if the class is presented in an interesting manner, then the students get interested and learn more, faster.
“My goal as a teaching assistant was not only to cover the material, but to make the students interested and happy with the instructor they selected for the class. I always want them to remember the experience for the way the information was delivered.”
A native of Mexico, Bugarin graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of science in chemistry, pharmacy and biology from the Universidad Autonoma de Zacatecas in 2003. After earning his master’s of science in chemistry from the University of Texas, El Paso, he came to Texas A&M to work on his doctorate, which he completed in May 2011.
When not toiling away with research or tutoring younger students, Bugarin enjoys expressing his natural determination and leadership qualities through other mediums, including his favorite pastime — soccer.
In 2006, Bugarin participated in a local soccer group but became disenchanted with the hostility and lack of unity among some of his teammates. A year later, Bugarin took the initiative to establish and captain his own team composed mostly of students, faculty and staff from the biology and chemistry departments. No different from how they would approach a project in the lab, the group utilized teamwork to achieve a common objective, resulting in top-five finishes out of 24 teams in each season they’ve competed thus far.
Whether in a lab coat or cleats, ambition continues to motivate Bugarin. At UCSB, he is developing versatile methods to construct carbon-nitrogen bonds in a tandem process. He hopes to expand on his research and eventually become a full professor at a major university.
“I think I’m a goal-oriented person,” Bugarin said. “I don’t normally set very visual goals, like obtaining a Ph.D., but more like acquiring the knowledge to demonstrate that I am a doctor. But definitely, if I say I will do something or set a goal, I must achieve it — I like to keep my promises.”
EPILOGUE: Bugarin spent a year at UCSB prior to beginning his independent career as a research professor in the UTA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, where he says he is living his dream that includes applying for tenure this summer. He’s still publishing peer reviewed research articles — 15 publications thus far from independent work that builds upon the eight as a result of his Ph.D. and two additional from his postdoctoral stint at UCSB. Bugarin says his career highlight to date is his work with allenols, which has been recognized as a named reaction — Bugarin a-Allenols Synthesis within the ReactionFlash app of the major chemical database Reaxys. He continues to maintain a partnership with the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry, which twice has invited him to present to the Professional Development Advisory Committee regarding methods involved in becoming a professor.
As for that soccer team Bugarin started back in 2007 while at Texas A&M? We’re pleased to report they finally won the Bryan-College Station City League championship in 2012 and that they’re still going strong, six years removed from his last match in Aggieland as team captain. So is Bugarin, who still enjoys playing weekly with the Fort Worth City League.
Contact: Chris Jarvis, (979) 845-7246 or firstname.lastname@example.org