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Raquel Espino López : Alan-Anderson Scholar 2023


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Here is the profile of Raquel Espino López, the recipient of the Alan-Anderson scholarship 2023, currently pursuing a master's degree in materials and metallurgical engineering under the guidance of Professor François Bordeleau. This scholarship is made possible thanks to the Centre de recherche sur le cancer de l’Université Laval and the Fonds de cancérologie de la Fondation de l’Université Laval. 

Since Raquel Espino López was little, she has always been fascinated by the natural sciences. She participated in several science competitions and won medals at the National Chemistry Olympics. At the age of 18, while completing her pre-university degree, she discovered the world of nuclear sciences and the potential of radioactive isotopes as radiotracers, particularly in medicine. At that moment, she knew she wanted to study Radiochemistry at the Higher Institute of Applied Sciences and Technologies (InSTEC) at the University of Havana. In Cuba, one of the main employment fields for graduates from this school is medicine and pharmacy, specifically in institutes related to nuclear medicine and radiopharmaceuticals production centers. For this reason, several compulsory courses in the InSTEC program are oriented toward these areas. 

From the second year of the InSTEC degree, Raquel participated in a research project developed in association with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), where she learned how to synthesize radioactive tracers (with 99mTc) useful for modeling nickel refining processes, a vital industry in Cuba. Although the project's topic was not in the medical field, the main use of 99mTc is certainly in medicine, and this project was an eye-opener for Raquel on the wonderful field of radiotracers and radiolabeling for medical applications. This experience significantly impacted her training as a young scientist, and she became aware of the scarcity of people trained in the field. 

While at the University, Raquel also learned about nanosciences and was fascinated by how it was possible to combine nuclear sciences with nanotechnologies to diagnose and treat diseases such as cancer or neurodegenerative diseases. Motivated by this, she started working on a new national project focused on the synthesis of magnetic nanoparticles and polymeric nanogels for biomedical and environmental applications. In 2021, she graduated with honors (summa cum laude) with a degree in Radiochemistry (5-year InSTEC curriculum). 

During the five years of the program, Raquel participated in the teaching of several courses. Her leadership and skills as a teaching assistant were recognized several times by her Institute and at the University of Havana. Upon graduation in 2021, she was promoted full-time teaching assistant at the Department of Radiochemistry. After these years of teaching and motivating other young people, Raquel aims to pursue an academic career and lead her research group related to nanosciences and their biomedical applications. 

She has always been an active member of the student council of her faculty. In the first years, she was the representative of the student science council, and in the last two years, she held the position of student Vice-President of the Faculty Council. She is also a member of the Cuban Society of Chemistry since 2016 and is currently the President of the Nuclear Youth Network of this society. 

Raquel has commenced a new phase in her professional career in a different country that has warmly welcomed her. At Université Laval, she is enrolled in the MSc program in Materials and Metallurgy Engineering. Here, she will be able to develop skills in experimental work with a unique combination of nanomaterials, positron isotopes, and biological samples under the supervision of expert professionals. She will also have access to a state-of-the-art nanotechnology lab, a 3D printing lab, and a comprehensive small animal imaging (MRI, PET, CT) platform. In addition, she will be able to work in an international context, which will help her strengthen her skills for training future radiochemists at her university. She aspires to make a meaningful difference in advancing our comprehension of and fighting diseases such as cancer, as well as enhancing people's quality of life. Realizing these objectives in the future would bring her great satisfaction.