Living in a Catholic monastery for two years, Aaron realised his calling through prayer and now works in chemical manufacturing.
“If you divide Mexico in two – north and south – you’ll find my hometown in the very centre of the north,” says Aaron. “It’s an isolated place where people pride themselves on thriving in spite of the desert,” he adds. Gómez Palacio, in the state of Durango, was where Aaron lived with his parents until the age of 15, when he joined a Catholic monastery run by the French Christian Brothers.
“I understood that His will was for me to become a monk, dedicated to education. Even as a monk, the idea was to specialise in chemistry. This is actually similar to the experiences of Pope Francis, although he was a chemist before starting his preparation to become a priest!”
However, after two years of living in the monastery, Aaron made the decision to leave. “I realised, through prayer and meeting with my superiors, that I was called to the secular life,” he explains.
Aaron went on to earn a scholarship to study chemistry at one of the most prestigious universities in Mexico – Tec de Monterrey. He then moved to North Carolina, USA, and obtained a Master’s degree.
Enjoying post-graduate research, he moved to Scotland and completed a PhD at the University of Edinburgh, under the supervision of Professor Polly Arnold. Whilst carrying out his research, Aaron enjoyed being able to use sophisticated equipment, particularly X-ray diffractometers. “The beauty and order of crystals still bewilders me,” he says.
Aaron has been living in the UK for six years and now works at Thomas Swan, a family owned chemical manufacturer based in the North East of England. He is involved in each step of product development, including synthesis design, small and medium scale preparation, and large scale manufacture. Aaron describes Thomas Swan as “having a homely feeling of a family-owned business that values its employees and allows them to participate in all stages of business.”
Chemistry and faith
Aaron’s faith is still extremely important to him and he believes his life has been filled with blessing. His involvement in the church has helped him to feel at home in the UK and make friendships outside work.
“I find solace in this extended family – far, far from my real family – who take part in the same celebrations as me and are like-minded with similar objectives.”
When Aaron first arrived in the UK, he felt a strong sense of secularism and even “anti-religiosity” within the scientific community. He has never felt that science and religion are against each other. “They certainly never have been in my life,” he says. “At the end of the day, we all believe in something, be it an established faith, oneself, or an institution, and we should be free to do so without being mocked or rejected.”
“For me there aren’t blurred lines between science and religion – I’ve never felt the need to choose between one or the other. They enhance each other by giving me a more integrated vision of the world.”
Aaron’s long term plan is to return to Mexico with his wife and focus on the education of those who have had fewer opportunities than him. He says that he has received a lot of things for free and feels compelled to give back as much as possible. “My time overseas is preparing me with knowledge and experiences to convey a better understanding of the world to those who may not have the means to go abroad.”
To promote diversity and help minority groups advance in science, Aaron stresses the need to offer opportunities to those who will never have them otherwise. He thinks the Royal Society of Chemistry is working towards this through initiatives such as the Benevolent Fund, career development support, bursaries for conferences and activities organised by regional groups. Praising RSC News, he says: “in our busy lives it’s difficult to keep ever aware of minority groups but numerous features in the magazine help to show the potential benefits of a scientific society where everyone is welcome.”
Finally, Aaron advises those setting out on a career in chemistry, who may feel under-represented in the sector, to adapt to their new environment but take care not to leave aside their original values:
“You may want to learn from new people and imitate traditions and behaviours, but usually others will be interested in your uniqueness and beliefs. That, to me, is the beauty of mankind.”
Words by Isobel Marr
Images courtesy of Aaron Gamboa
Published September 2015