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Armando Azúa
Armando Azúa

Agronomical Engineer, Catholic University of Chile

Who I am and what I do
My name is Armando Azúa. I am an Agronomical Engineer of the Catholic University of Chile since 1998. I do a lot of things, mainly related with plant physiology and plant molecular biology, for example, creating new rootstock for grape plants for wine and table grape production, or creating new seedless varieties of lemons and tangerines. I also do a lot of work with in vitro culture of different plant species. However, I also have another interests related to astrobiology, and I am working with microbes that live in extreme conditions, such as the ones that can live in high Andean lakes and desert conditions. Recently I started a collaboration with Benito Gómez of the University of Antofagasta on microbial communities that he found can grow under quartz stones of the Atacama Desert.

My Area of expertise
That is a tough question! I guess that I have so many interests that I would not like to place myself in any particular field. Well, of course I do have more practical experience in the biological arena, and I do more practical work in the topics stated in the previous question, but I like to read a lot; everything from palaeontology to impressionism painting. Sometimes my initiatives allow me merge my interests, and for example I will be in charge of experiments of genetic modification of plants under microgravity conditions in what it will be the first Chilean mission to space, where a Chilean astronaut (not me regretfully!!) will go the International Space Station.

How I first became interested in this profession
Since I was very young I liked to learn of everything; TV programs like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, Jacques Cousteau’s voyages and David Attenborough’s life on earth stimulated my imagination and drove me to learning and exploration. Since I grew up in a mining town of the Atacama Desert, and with the guidance of my father, since we were very little we and my brothers were used to go fossil hunting, bird watching and other mind opening activities, like astronomy (we have a semi-professional telescope), archaeology, geology and so many other interesting stuff you can do outdoors. Since I was 15 years old or so I was used to read magazines like National Geographic and Scientific American.

My education and training
I did my elementary and high school in Chuquicamata, a mining town close to the Andes in the Atacama Desert, although I spent a year as an exchange student in Huntington Beach, California. Then I went to the capitol of Chile, Santiago, for my college studies. During that period I went again to the US in an exchange programme to the University of California at Davis. After getting my degree as an Agronomical Engineer, I obtained a MSc. in biochemistry at the University of Chile.

What I like about my job
In my particular case, even when I do work more with plant research my boss let me wander (intellectually and experimentally) in other areas, so I do work in astrobiology related issues. That level of trust and support allows me to continue to develop my ideas in the topics of microorganisms of extreme environments, and other areas mentioned in previous questions. We are always exploring new avenues, and for example we are just making preliminary contacts with people in the Galapagos’s Islands in order to see a joint collaboration in their efforts of multiplying endangered plants conservation thorough plant micropropagation.

What I don’t like about my work
Since research is mainly based on external funding, we spent a lot of time writing projects and proposals in order to get funds and do science. Since this a highly competitive field, you are not always successful, even if your ideas are good. This means that most of the time you can not do what you would like to do, and in that sense your life is somehow unpredictable in comparison to other jobs were you can plan things with a higher degree of certainty.

My advice to anyone interested in this occupation
Research can be extremely fun, challenging and stimulating, but certainly is an area were most of people won’t get rich. You have to keep in mind that there are occupations where from the beginning you will earn more money. However, most people in science really, really like what they do, enjoying most aspects of it, something that money can’t buy. So my advise is, follow your heart (and mind)!!

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Last Updated:June, 2006
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