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Dr. Leo Gómez - Radiation Biologist
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I was raised to have respect for everyone, but to be in awe of no one. I was taught that I was responsible for my own life and that no one had the right to keep me from pursuing my dreams. Right now, I work as a radiation biologist at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the town that I grew up in. It was a funny thing that got me interested in science. When I was a kid there was a movie called ”THEM”, where ants had been exposed to radiation and became huge. That got me to wondering if ants could really grow that big! We had a lot of ants in our yard, and I used to mix various concoctions to make them grow, but they never did.

High school was really easy for me, because up until then I had gone to Catholic schools and the nuns were very strict about coming to school prepared. We were rather poor, so I had to work every day from the time I was 14 years old. I worked up to three jobs at a time during the summers. I did this so that I could get an education and have a large degree of control over my own life. Since I had no role models growing up, I went to the public library to read about science and scientists, such as Louis Pasteur, Niels Bohr, and Marie Curie.

I was the first person in my family to go to college. When I got to the University of New Mexico, I wasn’t sure what I would major in but that changed in the second semester of my sophomore year. There was a professor there named Gene Rypka who acted as my mentor. He helped me to choose what classes I should take, and while I didn’t have the best grades, I still knew I could do well in school if I had direction. I decided to major in biology, but took lots of courses in mathematics, chemistry, physics, philosophy and foreign languages. Later I went to graduate school to earn my Ph.D.

I want to understand nature by asking my own questions. I’ve had an opportunity to travel all over the world and work with some of the best scientists. I have close friends in the U.S., Canada, Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, Japan, China and Africa. From my cultural background I am attuned to differences, as I was taught not to assume that my cultural values are better than those of the countries I visit. I’ve become a citizen of the world.

I am working to understand more about the environment of the deep oceans of the world, and how men can affect our environment both positively and negatively. Currently, I am working on a project studying the pollution of the Arctic Ocean by radioactive releases from Russia. All the Russian rivers run north, so any pollution in the river system eventually ends up in the Arctic Ocean. Ask your teacher why this is! My coworkers and I are also collaborating with Japan, where a lot of seafood is eaten. The people there are very concerned about the quality of their food supply.

Always try to do your best with whatever you do. You will always be happy with yourself if you know you’ve tried your best. Be your own advisor because you are the only one who has to live with the decisions you make.


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