Women in Science: Researcher´s career in chemical development fueled by passion for understanding the rationale behind why things happen
18 August 2020

Carolina Zuriaga Monroy


Carolina Zuriaga Monroy is a researcher at the Materials and Chemicals Development Management Department, which belongs to the Hydrocarbon Transformation Research Directorate of the Mexican Petroleum Institute. Her research focuses on designing chemicals to meet the needs of the energy industry. This has led her to collaborate in various projects about catalysts and corrosion inhibitors comprehension using molecular modeling, resulting in scientific articles, patents and chemicals. In this interview she talks about her passion for understanding the rationale behind why things happen and shares advice on how to achieve your dreams.

You are a researcher focused on designing and developing chemicals. Is this something you always wanted to do?

I can say that my interest in understanding why things happen and in contributing a little bit to humanity has been somewhat latent since my childhood. As I progressed through my studies, I understood that things have a reason to be and I wanted to understand how it relates to their structure and matter.

There are definitely many disciplines that could satisfy my concern; however, I consider the electronic interactions using Quantum Chemistry are the most interesting of all. Having said that, the answer is yes: I always wanted to do what I do today and it is something that I have reinforced and I have enjoyed all above through my research career.

What is your motivation for pursuing research in this area?

I could number hundreds of motivations, but I will focus on talking about three. First, I am passionate about this area because it aligns with my interest in understanding the rationale behind why things happen. Second, working at the IMP has allowed me to work with high-performance teams whose research results in improvements in processes in the oil industry, and therefore each result has applicability. The third and most important is my family, my engine to make and to pursue my dreams, my parents, brothers, husband and of course, my daughter.

Have you encountered any challenges in pursuing your research career?

I believe that the career of a researcher always involves challenges and our work as professionals is to seek solutions to counteract them and to meet the objectives set. For example, the appearance of the current pandemic has led us to restructure the way in which we have interacted. By the nature of our activities, now we are constantly interacting with our colleagues mainly through electronic means, and the meetings to discuss the results went from being face-to-face to routine videoconferences.

What do you do within the ENERXICO project?

As part of work package 3 "Oil and Gas Energies", I carry out molecular modelling of catalysts for hydrodemetallization of heavy crude oil and in order to improve its refining. Broadly speaking, by means of molecular modelling, each component that makes up the hydrodemetallization system is studied separately: catalyst, porphyrins with vanadium/nickel and the effect of hydrogen, to later evaluate the performance of the complete system and to offer alternative solutions to optimise the procedure at the molecular level, such as doping the catalyst with metals that improve its operation.

How do you like it so far?

It seems like an excellent multisectoral collaboration project between Mexico and the European Union to solve some of the energy problems that afflict our society through supercomputing. This allows us to learn from the experiences of the team members and to create synergy through the collaboration network that is being formed.

What do you hope to achieve in your career in the long run?

I hope to make molecular modelling the main study option for determining alternative solutions to solve the problems of the energy industry.

What advice would you give young women who would like to follow in your footsteps?

It is very gratifying to collaborate with people and institutions to develop products and strategies to improve technologies in the energy industry. As long as it is something that they are really passionate about, it will be the best for them as a person and as a professional. I can share two phrases that I always keep in mind and have helped me:

• Dreaming small and dreaming big take the same energy and time. So, dream big.

• Make things happen: Follow your dreams and do what you are passionate about, so you will never give up.