Robin D. Lόpez has an academic and research background invested locally within the San Francisco Bay Area, as he was raised in San Pablo and Richmond, California. Mr. Lόpez is currently in graduate school at San José State University for Water Resources Engineering. In the scope of research, he is presently a Research Associate at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. As well, he mentors and teaches 4th/5th grade for local non-profit, Metas. He describes his trajectory in life as once misguided, “which is not uncommon for many young people from [his] region”. However, he credits resources, opportunities, and mentorship for cultivating a passion in STEM. Mr. Lόpez now commits himself to outreach, ensuring young people have an opportunity to actualize their potential. Integrating academics, community service/outreach, and an early career in science has resulted in several notable awards (Kennedy-King Memorial Scholar – Undergraduate & Graduate, National Science Foundation Scholar, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Service Scholar, and the White House Presidential Service Award). These awards only give a brief highlight of his continued engagement, and demonstrate the hunger for knowledge and community-building that he says he shares with other people from his environment. “When afforded the resources and platform to succeed”, Mr. López strongly believes, “such investments are limitless.”
We asked Robin to tell us a bit about his interests and the ways he sees the relationship between science and society:
What questions drive you? Why are these important and how does science help you answer them?
The primary questions the drive me are the ones that pertain to what function and purpose things have. Growing up, I always questioned things around me. Why did the Bay Bridge have to be so high above the water? Why does the grass turn muddy when it rains? Why does it get cold at night? As a child, I never knew how to answer these questions, nor did the adults around me. Our priority was survival, not the learning process. Because of this mindset, many of the questions that drive me presently are aligned with function and purpose. I’m convinced everything and everyone has a function and purpose. It’s through science, that we can determine these answers. When I approach a problem, I never view it as such. I pause, and ask myself “What is the purpose? What are the functions?”. The only time I haven’t been able to successfully answer these questions is when I’m staring at a Lawn Gnome.
What has surprised you the most since becoming a scientist? What common misconceptions are still out there?
The most surprising encounter since embarking on science, is learning that scientists and researchers are humans. In the movies, tv shows, and even the media, scientists are portrayed are some group of super-humans far superior than the normal human being. I was unsure what to expect the first time I interned in a research lab. To my surprise, everyone was “normal”. They have hobbies, families, and would admit when they couldn’t determine a correct solution. One of the common misconceptions is that science is nothing but old white men in lab coats. There is diversity. However, there’s much room for improvement in terms of gender, minorities, and inclusion itself. We’re getting there. This is part of the reason why I’ve stayed in science – to change the landscape and inspire others with similar backgrounds.
What do you like to do outside of science? Have any of your broader experiences shaped you as a researcher?
Outside of science, I like to work with kids, create music, and pursue amateur photography. I wouldn’t say these broader experiences have shaped me as a researcher. Rather, research has helped shaped these broader experiences. Through research, I found a way to connect the youth with music and science. Through research, I found ways to get a picture to speak to an audience. Research encouraged me to re-connect with my creative side, and also work with local disadvantaged youth. Opportunities and mentors provided to me along my journey have strengthen my trajectory in science. These experiences in science and research have taught me valuable lessons of paying-it-forward and allowing future generations to be afforded better opportunities.
Why do you think it’s important for scientists to share their work with the public? What role do you think science does or should play in broader society?
It’s imperative that research and science is shared with the public. Without sharing, it’s truly difficult to get public support. I’ll be the first to admit, that sometimes researchers aren’t the best at communicating with a general audience. There is a strong need for those with expertise in science communication. This would be in the context of writing, speaking, and visual graphics. Sharing science through such means enables the public to understand the function and purpose of one’s work. Science has a responsibility in broader society to provide evidence-based work that supports the health, sustainability, and knowledge base of our planet and respective occupants. Science is essential and crucial for future developments, innovation, and policy.
What advice would you give young students who are interested in science?
Science is all around you. Whatever you so desire to be in life, chances are science is connected. Pursue your interests to the point where it becomes a passion. One day, that passion will become a job. Follow those simple rules, that job will never feel like a job. It will feel like you’re getting paid to pursue your passion and have fun. People will ask me what I do. I tell them “I play with dirt from the Arctic sometimes. Other times, I’m playing with water.” Obviously, that’s a simple way to characterize what I do, but it sounds fun and intriguing, because to me it truly is.
You can follow Robin on Twitter here!