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Start Young Scientists for a More Sustainable Future
15 April 2024

Young Scientists for a More Sustainable Future

Estimated reading time Time 6 to read

In an ever-changing world, in which health and the environment are facing unprecedented challenges, science stands firm as an essential tool in building a more sustainable and equitable future. And against this backdrop, the new generations of scientists play a crucial role.

Young talent, full of passion and determination, who devote their energy to researching, innovating and finding solutions to humanity’s most pressing problems. Thanks to their invaluable work, these young scientists are opening new frontiers in the fight against climate change.

We’re here now to share the stories and viewpoints of a few of these scientists. Through their own words you will learn about their commitment to science, their vision for the future and the motivations that drive them forward.


Lur Epelde, a microbial ecologist, conducts research on phytoremediation and its effects on agroecosystems. Phytoremediation involves using plants to remediate contaminated soil, either by extracting the contaminants or by immobilizing them in the rhizosphere. Epelde works at Neiker, the Basque Institute for Agricultural Research, where she heads up the Soil Microbial Ecology group. Her research focuses on healing ailing soils by restoring the fungal and bacterial communities that are fundamental to their proper functioning and resilience. She also studies the effects of pesticide residues and rising temperatures on antibiotic resistance in agro-ecosystems.

BBVA-OpenMind-S Garcia-La ecologa microbiana que sana suelos contaminados_1 Microbial ecologist Lur Epelde is an expert in phytoremediation, which she defines as “the use of plants to remediate contaminated soils.” Credit: Lur Epelde
Microbial ecologist Lur Epelde is an expert in phytoremediation, which she defines as “the use of plants to remediate contaminated soils.” Credit: Lur Epelde

The scientist calls for a better understanding of soil in order to manage it properly, especially given the growing threat of soil degradation worldwide. She underlines the importance of international collaboration and the use of advanced technologies such as molecular biology and artificial intelligence to understand and address the challenges associated with soil health. Epelde also promotes public awareness of the importance of soil and has developed tools, such as Health Cards and the LURZAIN web application, to help people diagnose and improve the health of their soil.


Gerard Codina measures the sensitivity and resilience of Mediterranean forests to extreme events such as wildfire and drought. He is working to determine the tipping point in the resilience of forests so as to be able to anticipate the imminent collapse of forest ecosystems. He relies on information from National Forest Inventories to calculate forest resilience and link it to environmental variables. Codina seeks to generate tools to predict the response of forests in order to contribute to their conservation and prevent their loss and degradation.

BBVA-OpenMind-Perez de Pablos- Gerard Codina vigilante de la resiliencia de los bosques_1 Gerard Codina (Sabadell, 1993) mide la sensibilidad y resiliencia de los bosques mediterráneos ante eventos extremos como el fuego y la sequía. Crédito: Gerard Codina
Gerard Codina measures the sensitivity and resilience of Mediterranean forests to extreme events such as wildfire and drought. Credit: Gerard Codina

Climate change is making wildfires more frequent and severe, pushing forests to the limits of their resilience. Codina suggests keeping high-intensity fires at bay by promoting low-intensity fires, such as controlled burning, and adapting our response in each case to the prevailing circumstances. He underscores the importance of public awareness and participation in forest sustainability, and gives as an example the contribution he himself has been making to conservation projects and local environmental policies.


Chemical engineer Anna Mas has been researching technologies for the directanna capture of carbon dioxide from the air (direct air capture, or DAC for short), which is crucial for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting global warming to 1.5 °C by 2050. Her work focuses on optimizing the efficiency of this process, in which CO2  is directly removed from the ambient air and either stored or used in the production of valuable products such as fuels and chemicals. Mas stresses the importance of policies that champion the energy transition and of tough emissions regulations, as well as concrete measures such as the implementation of carbon footprint labels on products to help guide consumer choices.

BBVA-OpenMInd-Perez de Pablos-Anna Mas cientificos que cazan CO2 directamente del aire_1 La ingeniera química Anna Mas (Terrasa, Barcelona, 1995) investiga las tecnologías que permiten la captura, almacenamiento y uso de carbono (CCUS). Crédito: Anna Mas
Chemical engineer Anna Mas is researching technologies to enable carbon capture, storage and use (CCUS). Credit: Anna Mas

The researcher also highlights the threat that climate crisis poses to global food security and advocates preventive policies based on available scientific knowledge. She calls for further work to promote sustainable agriculture, strict regulation of industrial emissions and the implementation of more sustainable freight transport. Mas, who had to endure the effects of the pandemic in Sweden during her studies, stresses the importance of caring for nature and calls for a future in which our actions are aligned with the preservation of the planet.


Geologist Juan Carlos Silva focuses his efforts on analyzing the Earth’s historical changes through the study of isotopes, which provide valuable information about the evolution of the Earth system and its interaction with the biosphere. He stresses the urgent need to address environmental challenges and to adopt emission-negative technologies and policies that promote climate change mitigation. Silva also calls for environmental regeneration and social awareness as top priorities in overcoming the challenges we face today.

El geólogo Juan Carlos Silva (Colombia, 1975) se ha dedicado los últimos años a la meteorización química avanzada (ECW, en sus siglas en inglés). Crédito: IE University.
Geologist Juan Carlos Silva has devoted the last few years to advanced chemical weathering (ECW). Credit: IE University.

From his perspective as a geologist, Silva flags the main risks facing the planet, having already surpassed six of the nine identified planetary boundaries, revealing the urgent need to adapt to environmental changes. He calls for the scaling-up of carbon removal technologies, such as carbon capture, and highlights the importance of advanced chemical weathering as a tool to capture and store atmospheric CO safely.. He also stresses the need to promote policies that encourage the adoption of carbon-negative technologies as part of a comprehensive strategy to mitigate climate change.


Natacha Aguilar de Soto, a marine biologist at the Oceanographic Center of the Canary Islands, devotes her time to researching cetacean conservation and the marine environment. She stresses the importance of cetaceans in maintaining a healthy balance of marine biological communities and remarks on their economic value as estimated by the International Monetary Fund. She also studies the impact of humans on the marine environment, especially noise pollution caused by activities such as maritime traffic and industry.

BBVA-OpenMind-PerezdePablos-La vigilante de los ruidos malignos del mar_1 La bióloga marina Natacha Aguilar de Soto es experta en la ecología y el comportamiento de los cetáceos, y estudia el impacto humano en el medio marino, sobre todo la contaminación acústica. Crédito: Universidad de La Laguna.
Marine biologist Natacha Aguilar de Soto is an expert in the ecology and behavior of cetaceans, and studies human impact on the marine environment, especially noise pollution. Credit: University of La Laguna.

Aguilar de Soto warns about the lethal and sub-lethal effects of underwater noise on marine fauna and remarks on the need for action to mitigate this problem. In spite of the challenges, she highlights the paradigm shift towards conservation driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. The researcher calls for further protection of marine biodiversity and underlines the importance of adopting a business approach to the green and blue economy. Her work focuses on the conservation of vulnerable species such as the sperm whale and on quantifying the positive impact of cetaceans on marine productivity and CO2 capture. Aguilar de Soto is also looking to forge international collaborations to promote marine conservation in regions such as West Africa and Macaronesia.


Guillermo Fandos, a biologist specialized in zoology and conservation biology, has devoted his life to nature conservation. His research focuses on moving towards a more reliable predictive ecology to improve biodiversity conservation. He combines different types of data and methodological approaches to better understand the processes that affect the distribution and abundance of animal populations in space and time. He highlights the urgent need to develop accurate models to predict biodiversity change, identify data needs, and target effective conservation strategies.

BBVA-OpenMind-Perez de Pablos-Cuando la solucion a la conservacion pasa por los datos_1 El objetivo final de la investigación del biólogo Guillermo Fandos (Madrid, 1988) es avanzar hacia una ecología predictiva más fiable y, en consecuencia, una mejor conservación de la biodiversidad. Crédito: Guillermo Fandos.
The ultimate goal of biologist Guillermo Fandos’ research is to advance towards a more reliable predictive ecology and, consequently, a better conservation of biodiversity. Credit: Guillermo Fandos.

His passion for conservation stems from his upbringing and family experiences, which has led him to integrate scientific data with citizen science in his research. Fandos stresses the crucial role played by technology, such as camera traps and remote sensors, when it comes to biodiversity monitoring and modeling. As an assistant professor at the Complutense University of Madrid, he is looking to establish a multidisciplinary research group in quantitative conservation biology in order to understand and predict changes in nature and apply the right conservation measures. His greatest challenge is bringing science and conservation closer together, a goal he is pursuing with determination and passion.


Susana García López, a chemical engineer specializing in processes related to climate change, is heading up research in CO2 capture, utilization and storage at Heriot-Watt University. Her work is focused on developing new materials and systems for the efficient capture of CO2 from the atmosphere. She stresses the importance of international collaboration and public awareness in tackling this global problem.

Susana García López es catedrática en Ingeniería Química y de Procesos en la Universidad de Heriot-Watt (Edimburgo) y dirige el equipo de CCUS en el Research Centre for Carbon Solutions. Crédito: Susana García López
Susana García López is Professor of Chemical and Process Engineering at Heriot-Watt University (Edinburgh) and heads up the CCUS team at the Research Centre for Carbon Solutions. Credit: Susana García López

García López stresses the need to educate society about climate change and the individual and collective responsibility to reduce emissions. She also underscores the importance of scientific and technological progress in meeting this challenge and expects some key breakthroughs in CO2 capture to be made in the coming years. With respect to climate change deniers, García López emphasizes the overwhelming scientific evidence and observable climate changes as proof of the reality of the problem.


David Nogués-Bravo, a macroecologist, stresses the importance of anticipating and addressing future environmental crises to protect human health and food security. His research focuses on understanding the laws of nature to stay ahead of the biodiversity crisis and educate people about environmental hazards. He warns about the increase in diseases and pandemics due to environmental degradation and calls for political action and financial support to halt biodiversity loss.

BBVA-OpenMind-Perez de Pablos_Futurologo de la naturaleza_1 La salud humana presente y futura y también la seguridad alimentaria tienen mucho que ver con las crisis ambientales, señala el macroecólogo David Nogués-Bravo (en la imagen). Crédito: D. Nogués-Bravo
Present and future human health and food security are closely tied to environmental crises, proclaims macroecologist David Nogués-Bravo (pictured). Credit: D. Nogués-Bravo.

Nogués-Bravo also underscores the need for education at all levels about environmental risks and stresses the importance of placing limits on alterations to nature if we are to avoid serious consequences down the line. He also remarks that ecology and other disciplines can now speak the language of money and politics, thus facilitating political action to address the global environmental challenges we face today.

Paz Palacios 


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