Jesus Diaz Sanchez is a junior majoring in chemistry. Diaz Sanchez is one of the students in the first cohort of the Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) Nevada Program. MARC aims to increase diversity in the fields of biomedical sciences, and it supports students in applying to and transitioning into research-focused higher degree programs, such as a Ph.D., M.D. or M.D.-Ph.D.
Diaz Sanchez is working in the research lab of David Cantu, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering. In the lab, he uses computational chemistry to study lanthanide complexes. More specifically, Diaz Sanchez is studying gadolinium diethylenetriaminepentaacetic acid, or Gd DTPA. DTPA is a molecule that can coordinate with the gadolinium element to form a lanthanide-ligand complex. Gadolinium-based molecules are frequently used as contrast agents in medical imaging. But the molecule is sensitive to its environment, and if the complex breaks apart, the gadolinium can cause metal toxicity, as well as a disease called nephrogenic systematic fibrosis. Diaz Sanchez is working on understanding the conditions that cause gadolinium DTPA to break apart, to hopefully aid in disease prevention in the long run.
“I’ve always liked problem solving,” Diaz Sanchez said. “It’s a different kind of problem solving, because nobody knows the answer yet, and I think that’s cool.”
When Diaz Sanchez first arrived at the University as a first-generation student, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He started out as a microbiology and immunology major, but found he really enjoyed his chemistry classes. He reached out to Cantu, trying to decide whether he wanted to switch into chemical engineering or chemistry.
“I reached out to him by chance, and he invited me into his lab. I had never heard of computational chemistry.” Diaz Sanchez has been working in Cantu’s lab for a little over a year now, and is excited about the skills he’s gained working in the lab.
“Since a lot of the world is very digital now, it’s useful to know coding and machine learning techniques,” Diaz Sanchez said. “Even if this isn’t my end-all be all career, I will still get something from it.”
The MARC Nevada Program provides a large stipend to its students. The program supports the students with $14,000 in their junior and senior years to help them focus on their research and schooling.
Diaz Sanchez worked multiple jobs before starting the MARC program.
“Now I don’t have to do that, which is really nice,” he said. “If I need to focus on school I can just do that, or if I have time, I can do research. It’s helped me a lot, I definitely feel less stressed in general, because my only responsibility is my schooling and my research.”
Diaz Sanchez is still not sure whether he wants to be a medical doctor, but he knows he wants to continue doing research after his undergraduate schooling. In the meantime, he’s making the most of his undergrad experience. Diaz Sanchez said he’s innately curious, and that chemistry has been a good match for him to learn more about how the world works. He’s also expecting to have a first name paper by the end of the spring semester.
To relax, Diaz Sanchez participates in the climbing club on campus. He had climbed before, but said it’s nice to have a group of people supporting him when he gets frustrated on a problem. The sport provides another opportunity for Diaz Sanchez to use his problem-solving skills.