Dr. Ramírez Lugo, an associate professor of biology at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras is one of two new appointees to the American Association of the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) board of directors.
Lugo is a prolific scientist whose research has focused on how engagement in scientific research can benefit students and on environmental issues like the stress responses in corals that are severely impacted by climate change.
His love of science began in middle school, he explained to AAAS in an interview. In seventh grade, he had a science fair project that involved working with a professor at a nearby university who studied earth worms. “I got to go to the university and use…equipment and the facilities there and I was fascinated by it,” he said. “So that really got me thinking, you know, it’s like, wow, this would be a cool thing to be a scientist.’”
He went on to attend the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, earning a Bachelor of Science in Biology. “Slowly I became more interested in kind of the molecular aspects of the work,” he explained of his growing research in molecular biology. He went on to attend the California Institute of Technology, where he received his Ph.D.
In 2013, he started teaching at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras, where he continues to serve as an assistant professor today. Much of his work at the university involves studying the impact of engaging in scientific research on students. “For the last four years we’ve been developing mobile applications to assess student perceptions of their sense of self-efficacy and career decidedness and also scientific identity,” he explained. “We do so either by sending text messages or push notifications to the students so they can respond on their perceptions of these things in real time.”
In 2011, he was inspired by the AAAS Vision & Change report – which discussed ways to improve undergraduate biology education – to become more involved with the organization. “I was very much fascinated by this report, trying to integrate it into my courses and some of the recommendations that they had and then I found out that there was a local chapter – the Caribbean division of AAAS – here in Puerto Rico,” he noted.
He grew involved in the Caribbean division and eventually became its president in 2017, a position he served in through 2020; he also became an active member of AAAS’s Governance Modernization Working Group in 2020.
His work in the Caribbean division became particularly important after the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. “We started this…fundraising campaign within AAAS members to get funds to support researchers in Puerto Rico so they could get back on their feet,” he noted. They ended up disbursing around $100,000.
All of these experiences prepared Lugo for his upcoming tenure as a board member. He is replacing Dr. Alondra Nelson, a sociologist who was appointed by President Biden in January 2021 to serve as the deputy director for science and society at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Nelson was recently appointed as the interim director of OSTP, and Lugo will be serving the remainder of her term through February 2024.
Lugo looks forward to using his tenure to address leading scientific problems. “I think the first one on the table should be climate change, this is the one existential threat,” he said.
He also alluded to the important of addressing energy issues because of the deep connections between the environment and international relations. “The aspect of energy not only impacts the environment but also geopolitical situations as the ones we’re seeing now between Russia and Ukraine,” he noted, adding that food security was also a leading issue for him.