Momentum Newsletter Banner
Spring 2009
Pay It Forward: NSM Professor Helps Advance Science in Developing Countries

A University of Houston physics professor takes the phrase "pay it forward" to heart in his quest to advance science in Third-World countries.

Once a budding physicist seeking opportunities 30 years ago in his native Panama, Carlos Ordóñez, an associate professor of physics at UH, recruits up-and-coming scientists from Mexico, Peru, Cuba, Brazil and other countries, matching them with UH's top researchers in biology, chemistry and physics for post-doctoral fellowships. During these two-year fellowships, the Latin American students gain valuable experience working with prominent faculty and using state-of-the-art facilities often not available in their home countries.

"Third-World countries are making great efforts to get up to speed on science and technology, and cultivating these collaborative links enhances the human infrastructure in those countries," Ordóñez said. "Most of these UH fellows return home after the program, equipped with new contacts and colleagues to help strengthen scientific partnerships between the United States and Latin America."

Ordóñez is passionate about building these partnerships because he also was the beneficiary of a life-changing opportunity to come to the United States. He graduated from the University of Panama with honors and excelled at physics, yet he had little exposure to research until he came to the University of Texas for doctoral studies.

"Competing in such a distinguished research program forced a sharp learning curve," Ordóñez said. "I was used to solving problems I was given, but now I had to come up with my own questions. Being a student is a passive process, but in research you have to be creative and proactive. The realization that I could go beyond simply acquiring knowledge to actually producing it was an eye-opening experience."
While Ordóñez was an excellent physics student in his homeland, it was the opportunity to study in the United States with world-class researchers that helped launch his accomplished career as a theoretical physicist. He now works to extend those same opportunities to promising young scientists from Latin America.

His efforts earned him the American Physical Society's 2009 John Wheatley Award, which recognizes physicists who have contributed to the development of science in Third-World countries.
Ordóñez formally will be presented with the 2009 John Wheatley Award at the next general meeting of the American Physical Society in Denver, Colo. The award is given biennially and includes a $2,000 stipend.
In This Issue