He loves teaching science: that’s why he came to Groningen to take a Master’s degree in Education and Communication of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. But his name also appears on a recent paper published in Nature Photonics. And he’s building an observatory on his native Aruba. Meet Jeremio Maduro. (He’s a sculptor too.)
Jeremio Maduro is not your average Master’s student. At 30 he’s a bit old for a start. And although he is a co-author of the Nature Photonics paper, his real ambition is to become a science teacher on Aruba, an island north of Venezuela. ‘I like teaching. Especially that “aha” moment when blank incomprehension is suddenly replaced by real understanding.’
Maduro came to Groningen in 2001 to take a Bachelor’s degree in Laboratory Analysis and Organic Chemistry at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences. ‘I finished in 2006 and went back to Aruba for a job in quality control at a cosmetics factory with the idea of doing teacher training. But there were no places available.’ The island only has three institutions that offer secondary school teacher training programmes.
‘So, while I waited for the teaching training I thought I might become a teaching assistant. But the head of my former school encouraged me to apply for a grant to study in Groningen again.’ He was eligible for this grant because Aruba has a shortage of qualified teachers. Maduro therefore enrolled on the Master’s programme in Education and Communication at the Faculty of Science and Engineering (formerly known as the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences) at the University of Groningen, to become a chemistry teacher.
Part of the training entailed five months of research, which took him to the lab of Professor of Organic Chemistry Kees Hummelen. ‘The project appealed to me. It was about nanocrystals that can make a high-energy visible photon from two low-energy infrared photons. That’s kind of counterintuitive.’ His task was to adapt the production process to yield crystals of a more uniform size. ‘That didn’t work out too well,’ he confesses.
But Maduro became so interested in the entire project that once the compulsory five months had passed he kept returning to the lab. ‘I like puzzles. That’s what attracts me to science.’ He worked with PhD student Wenqiang Zou and postdoc Cindy Visser on making the crystals and adding molecular antennae to catch infrared photons. ‘I also developed a theoretical model that predicted how many antennae would fit on a crystal and what the optimal number should be.’
The work was frustrating at times. ‘We added antennae, but when we beamed infrared laser light at the crystals, they just burned up. They couldn’t handle the energy.’ Impurities introduced during the production of the antennae turned out to cause this malfunction. ‘Once we purified the antennae, it suddenly worked like a dream.’ His work earned him a listing as co-author of the resulting paper, which is described in this article. ‘I still occasionally pop in to the lab to help with the production of crystals and antennae. Right now, I’ve got a two-month summer job there.’
Despite the success of his research project, Maduro is set on becoming a teacher on Aruba. ‘I’ll be finished in a year’s time. There are a couple of teachers who are eagerly awaiting my return, as they are due to retire.’ Teaching seems to come naturally to him. ‘I’ve taught astronomy to kids. For years, I’ve been making my own equipment to take astronomy pictures. Kids would see me working and ask about it, so I put together an astronomy course.’
He gave the schoolchildren a theory class in the afternoon, and they made observations at night. ‘Recognizing constellations or determining the chemical composition of meteorites by their colour as they burn up in the atmosphere.’
He is even building his own observatory right next to his family home. He shows a picture of a small tower with a dome. ‘I built it myself. I want to add statues of famous scientists, just like at the Griffith Observatory Monument in the US.’ He will be making the statues himself. ‘Yes, I also do a bit of sculpting.’
Maduro’s ambitions go even further, ‘Together with a couple of other teachers, I plan to build a Science Centre on Aruba. Because there’s nothing there to introduce clever kids to science and to encourage them to go for a career in science.’
Maduro wants to inspire them because he loves science. ‘It’s a quest to find out how things work. Not taking anything for granted but digging in to find the answers yourself. You can travel to distant countries, but the journey into science is just as exciting.’
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