Alicia Casitas graduated in Chemistry at the University of Girona in 2007. She finished her PhD in the Institut de Química Computacional i Catàlisi (IQCC) under the supervision of Dr. Miquel Costas and Dr. Xavi Ribas in the field of organometallic copper complexes. Then, she joined the laboratory of Prof. Alois Fürstner in Germany and three years later she returned in Spain in the group of Prof. Julio Lloret-Fillol at Institut Català d’Investigació Química (ICIQ) as a Juan de la Cierva postdoctoral investigator. She has been recently awarded with a JuniorLeader “La Caixa” fellowship, which will allow her to return to our institute to start her independent research. As part of this fellowship, Alicia has currently an opening for a PhD student (deadline July 15, expected starting date October 2018).
- You have recently received the JuniorLeader “La Caixa” Fellowship, which allows you to start your independent research in a university of your choice. Why have you chosen to join the IQCC?
The Institute of Computational Chemistry and Catalysis (IQCC) will offer me with the best infrastructure and research facilities in order to successfully accomplish the goals of the research project SUSCHEMEARTH. Obtaining the support of the institution is sometimes taken for granted, but I consider it to be essential in order to become a junior independent group leader. In this regard, I have already received a strong support by the institution and the director Prof. Marcel Swart. I am also very grateful to Dr. Xavi Ribas and Dr. Miquel Costas, who have offered me their support and physical space in their laboratories (this is always a complicated topic to deal with –smile-) and access to all the instrumentation required for the research project. So, this is a great chance for me and I am highly motivated and enthusiastic for facing this new career step!
- Which will be the main focus of your research?
My research focuses on applying a bottom-up approach towards catalysts design aiming at introducing innovative concepts in base-metal homogeneous catalysis, while providing the state-of-the-art catalysts to solve long-standing challenging organic transformations. In other words, while synthesizing and characterizing new organometallic structures and disclosing their reactivity, my main goal is to obtain sustainable methodologies for the synthesis of organic molecules. I always get fascinated when I am able to synthesize organometallic complexes that have been considered elusive species for the scientific community and also when disclosing unusual reactivity that disrupts the current understanding of the field. Particularly, my research will focus on iron and manganese complexes, which are the first and third most abundant elements on the earth-crust. Despite their exploration in catalysis is still in an early stage if we compare them with noble metals (for instance, Pd, Rh, Ir), I consider that their rich chemistry, enhanced by creative ligand design, offers an outstanding opportunity to discover innovative catalytic methods.
- Do you think the IQCC has changed since you defended your doctoral thesis?
When I finished my PhD studies at the Chemistry Department of the University of Girona in 2012, the Institute of Computational Chemistry (IQC) has just joined with the experimental research groups of the department to found the current Institute IQCC. Therefore, as an outsider for the last 5 years, I have been observing how the IQCC has established itself at the forefront of European research centers for theoretical chemistry and catalysis, whose scientific contributions are worldwide recognized. Indeed, I consider the IQCC as a clear example on how collaborations and synergies between research groups reinforce the capacity of response and leadership in order to accomplish common research goals.
- What do you think is your best quality to be a group leader?
From my point of view, obtaining the leadership of a research group involves developing an inspirational and motivating role to the students and colleagues, while transferring knowledge and promoting curiosity and passion for science, in our case, chemistry. I have been extremely lucky to have excellent mentors through my career who really fulfill these requirements. In addition, a group leader must have a strong commitment to promote high-quality research keeping high ethical standards. We cannot forget that group leaders are responsible for training a new generation of researchers with the skills and knowledge needed to tackle the current and future societal and economical challenges.
- How are you seeing yourself in five years?
It is very difficult to predict the future when one is pursuing an academic career. The future depends to a great extent on the funding opportunities obtained. I guess that being hard-working, determined, optimistic and also having some luck will pave the way for consolidating my position as a group leader at the IQCC. Of course, I would love to see that the ideas written in a piece of paper for the SUSCHEMEARTH project are accomplished by talented and highly motivated students of my group!
- And finally, how do you spend your time where you are not working?
In my leisure time, I keep always very active. I must admit that a cup of coffee in the morning is enough to give me all the energy for the whole day. So when I am not working, I always do some sports such as swimming or running and I like to spend time with friends and family. When I need to chill out and relax, I like reading novels and watching independent movies at home or at the cinema. Finally, since I am a very curious person I love travelling and learning about new countries and cultures; so I enjoy so much going for holidays abroad in places I have never been before and just discover them.
For more information about Alicia Casitas, please visit her website: https://aliciacasitas.wordpress.com/