CONICET interview cycles

“Scientific research provides an unthinkable notion of freedom”

The scientist, who received the Emeritus Researcher award, evaluates his professional career.


Eduardo Charreau. Photo: CONICET Photography.

After more than 50 years from the beginning of his career, Eduardo Charreu remembers the road travelled and the meaning of being a scientist. The beginnings of his vocation, his work experience abroad and his career at the CONICET.

The former president of the CONICET (2002-2008) was also a student of Luis Federico Leloir and disciple of Bernardo Houssay, Nobel Award winners in 1970 and 1947, respectively. Besides, he ensures that research is “a very particular life choice: all days of my life were different”.

 

This distinction of Emeritus Researcher is presented by your peers to those who excelled in career, investigations and contributions to science. How do you live this moment?

I feel it very deeply. I was not expecting it and I never imagined it when I started this path more than half a century ago, with the help of Houssay. It was an extraordinary path for me and I would never leave it. Besides, I did not think that at the end of it- so to speak- the most prestigious institution of the Argentine scientific system was going to honor me with the Emeritus Researcher award.

 

For you, what is the meaning of being a scientist?

It is a very particular life choice: all the days of my life were different and not all professions have that interesting aspect. I have never felt bored, not even now that I don’t spend that much time at the laboratory. We scientists know that we are going to ‘die’ the behind the lab bench and I enjoyed it then and now. Scientific research provides an unthinkable notion of freedom.

 

Do you remember the first time you felt that your path was the investigation?

The research of the unknown was something that has always been inside me since I was a kid. The inclination towards biologic sciences emerged early in my life. Maybe, what influenced on me most was the fact that some relatives worked with Medicine and Biology. After having very good teachers of Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics, I decided to study Exact Sciences. When I finished that course, I felt the need to learn biomedical sciences, where I first met Leloir and then Houssay. From that moment on, the die was cast.

 

How was your relationship with both? 

I met Leloir at the University, where he was the professor of one of the subjects I attended. He noticed my devotion towards biomedicine and he introduced me to Houssay, with whom I started some research works on endocrinology. With Houssay started all the rest of my training and the reason to be part of the Institute of Experimental Biology and Science (IBYME, CONICET-FIBYME). Thanks to Houssay I travelled abroad to get a postdoctoral fellowship. Later on, I was appointed assistant Professor at Harvard University. Very excited, I told him about my recent appointment and the fact that I needed to change my visa for that purpose. At that moment, even though I knew that to lose somebody was an impossible crime for Houssay, I was not totally aware of it. He answered that it was a good chance but he would never grant my request because even though science was universal, scientists have homeland and they have to work for it. After that, he talked to my boss in Harvard and I had a month to solve my family problems – I had two kids. He told me to return to the IBYME and I did it. Looking back, I do not regret having done so.

 

What is your opinion regarding the evolution of the CONICET throughout your career and its current situation? 

The creation of the Council was a necessity to institutionalize research and professionalize scientific education. With the investigator career, the idea that it is possible to live doing science appeared. That was Houssay’s great project. Of course, from that small institution-as it was at the beginning- and with the ups and downs the scientific system endured during these years, today, the CONICET is proliferating.

 

What is your point of view of science in the future? 

I hope that we do not loose what we gained during the past years. Human resources in science and technology are difficult to obtain and easy to lose. If the changes made during these last ten years continue, we will be able to compete at an international level.

 

Finally, what is the role of scientific promotion regarding vocation’s boost? 

Scientific promotion is vital. I think that the scientific sector has to attend to knowledge ownership, which is not just the promotion of the findings. The objective is to promote scientific knowledge to social classes that are not aware of the fact that science can be very useful in everyday life. That is the role- or one of them- that scientists are trained to play. The press is a key participant because apart from publishing relevant international findings, it must communicate what is done in our country.

Personal information

Eduardo Charreau has a PhD in Chemical Sciences from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), where he started to investigate under the direction of the Nobel prize winner Bernardo Houssay.

He was a professor at Harvard University and upon his return at the Institute of Experimental Biology and Science (IBYME, CONICET-FIBYME) he established a reference centre for molecular endocrinology. He was a tenured professor at the Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences (UBA). He is a Senior Investigator at CONICET and was president of the Council from 2002 to 2008.

He served as a director of the IBYME, founded by Houssay. Besides, he was the president of the Pan American Confederation for the Scientific Advances; National and Binational Director of the Argentine Centre for the Argentine-Brazilian Biotechnology Centre and he lead other important Associations and Foundations.

He is a member of Third World Academy of Sciences, the Argentine Medical Association, the Academy of Medical Sciences of Córdoba (Argentina), and he has been president of the National Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences of Argentina (2008-2012).

Furthermore, he served as a consultant at the World Health Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency, National Institutes of Health (NIH) at the USA, Institut Pasteur de Montevideo and the Universities of Pennsylvania (USA), Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul and San Pablo (Brazil).

Regarding his scientific training, he works on molecular endocrinology and the hormone-dependent tumor. He published more than 200 studies, five books and he supervised 24 doctoral theses. He received several distinctions and awards from prestigious national and international institutions, including TWAS Award in Basic Medicine. Besides, he was awarded the “Teacher of Argentine Medicine”, and Honoris Causa of the Universities of Tucumán and Concepción. He received the Konex Award in two opportunities, as a scientist (Basic Biomedical Sciences, 1993) and as a Sciences administrator (Public Administrator, 2008).

From the French government he was awarded the Order of Academic Palms and the National Order of Scientific Merit from Brazil.

In 2013 he was appointed Emeritus Researcher of the CONICET.

  • By Ana Belluscio.