FPdGi Awards

María Escudero: “It is a great opportunity to make us more visible”

This chemical engineer is the joint winner of the 2018 Princess of Girona Foundation Scientific Research Award, together with chemist Guillermo Mínguez.


Chemical engineer and doctor of Chemistry, María Escudero (Caceres, 1983) focuses her research on electrochemistry, i.e., the chemical reactions that produce electricity and vice versa. The Princess of Girona Foundation wanted to recognise and reward this dedication by presenting her with the 2018 Scientific Research Award, together with chemist Guillermo Mínguez. “The scientific, technological, energy-generation and social impact of her work will contribute towards slowing climate change”, highlighted the jury for this award, formed of physicist and president of the European University Association Rolf Tarrach (who acted as chairman of the jury), biochemist Fátima Bosch, chemist Avelino Corma, philosopher Adela Cortina, cardiologist and general director of CNIC, Valentí Fuster, sociologist Emilio Lamo de Espinosa, researcher and 2015 FPdGi Scientific Research Award winner, Samuel Sánchez, and physicist Lluís Torner.

All of them emphasised the winner’s efforts and dedication in “developing electrochemical catalysts based on metallic nanoparticles that could replace noble metals to reduce costs and increase efficiency in processes for obtaining clean energy”. The winner learned about this recognition while she was in California (USA) and received the news with “immense happiness”. “It is a great opportunity to make us more visible, as scientists are usually totally invisible; it is very hard for us to reach the public and explain why research is so important, and in that regard the FPdGi Awards help us a great deal”, she pointed out.

The winner’s field of research, electrochemistry, plays a very important role in the fight against climate change. “Through chemical reactions we can obtain sustainable fuels such as nitrogen”, explained the engineer, who also regretted that in countries such as Spain there is little support for renewable energies: “We are very fortunate to receive many hours of sunlight, which could supply all our energy needs as the technology to store and use it when we need it exists. However, here the use of renewable energy is almost penalised”.

Obtaining clean energy
The aim of her research is, precisely, to use electrochemistry to replace the current energy model with a sustainable one that respects the environment. In the future she hopes to “produce chemical compounds” which are required in many scientific fields and that “nowadays come from the petrochemical industry, which generates a lot of pollution”. This goal has driven her motivation during all the years she has been a researcher.

After graduating in Chemical Engineering from the University of Extremadura and gaining her doctorate in Chemistry from the Autonomous University of Madrid, Escudero continued her career at Argonne National Laboratory (USA), the University of Ulm (Germany), and the Technical University of Denmark. In 2014 she was awarded a grant from the Danish Government which allowed her to spend two years at Stanford University and since 2017 she has been a professor at the University of Copenhagen, where she leads a nano-electrochemical group.

Recently she was awarded a five-year research grant for 1.3 million euros from a private Danish foundation. “It is extremely important funding because it allows me to hire more researchers and buy more powerful, and therefore more expensive, equipment”, points out the winner, who deplores the fact that there aren’t more foundations willing to support research. “Science is progress, it is culture, it is the future. Without science there is no scientific or economic development”, she warned.

In addition, among other pending duties, Escudero demanded, above all, the presence of more women in the fields of research and science. “Our field evolves really slowly: things have changed very little in the past ten years. This is worrying because 50% of university students are women, a figure which drops at doctorate level, but the most surprising thing is that when you look at the proportion of women in positions of greater responsibility the percentage falls to just 10%. And then you have the Nobel prize, which has only been awarded to 3% women”, lamented this doctor of Chemistry, who believes that it is necessary to put “strategies and policies” in place to turn this situation around.

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