Trained in chemistry and geology, Joaquin Ruiz leads a team at the University of Arizona that covers a huge range of topics – from climate change to the origins of life. His work transcends not just topics, but international borders and even outer space.
“Being very curious about why things happen as they do, studying science was perfect for me,” he told SACNAS, an organization advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in science.
“My research focuses on the use of radiogenic and heavy stable isotopes to study the evolution of the Earth’s crust and mantle through time, the genesis of ore deposits, paleogeography and environmental and archeological problems,” Ruiz said.
A member of the Mexican Academy of Sciences, he was named a “National Researcher” by the Mexican government in 2010 for “outstanding scientific contributions and efforts to enhance Mexico’s scientific and technological capacity through collaborations with the UA and research institutions in Mexico.”
After that it gets a little technical, so suffice it to say this scientist is truly out of this world.
Q: What is your vision of Tucson as a Science City tourism destination – and the role it can have in overall economic development in Southern Arizona?
A: Southern Arizona has more biodiversity than any other place in the United States, any other place in North America. We are, in fact, the Galapagos of North America.
Every one of our mountain ranges have evolved in a different way. As one example of biodiversity, the Santa Catalina Mountains have about 3,000 species of flowers. And that’s just one mountain range. In the entire U.S. east of the Mississippi, there are 4,000 species. We live in a very, very special place with respect to our biology.
We also live in an incredibly special place with respect to human habitat. This place has had continuous habitation for 4,000 years.
We’ve been working really hard connecting with a variety of individuals who have the same vision and are helping us try to truly create a sense of place. We are talking about how we can actually make this a geo-tourism destination for Europe and the United States.
I have always believed Tucson has three things that truly make it unique – the biodiversity, the diversity we have as individuals and a university that is very powerful in its sciences and technology.
When you add those things together, you can do a variety of things. You can create think tanks that can be unique in
the country where we think about issues of resiliency and sustainability. You can imagine Tucson being like an Aspen Institute. If we throw our heads together and our assets together, I think we can create something similar to that.
Every time you bring in leaders or game-changers – the kind of folks who go to these think tanks to think about how to make the world better – those individuals get to see Tucson. And then then we have an opportunity to have those individuals help make this an even better place.
Q: What leading role can the UA College of Science and other related entities play in the continued development of the region as hub for science and innovation?
A: The big players would be the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Biosphere 2, the Mission Gardens – all the places that have the things that I mentioned above. Those are entities that can be very, very strong and can create experiences that folks just can’t get by going through their travel agent. We should be creating experiences in Saguaro National Park where people can come here and do things that they can’t do anywhere else. You can go on and on.
Q: Who are some of the businesses, individuals and organizations that can have the most significant impact on your vision and objectives – and how can they partner with the College of Science?
A: I see businesses more as a client. The government, the parks, the county, the city and the university have the assets that we want to show off. Businesses are trying to bring talent to Tucson and that talent may think that you’re bringing them to the end of the world. Give us a weekend with these folks and I can show them places where they’ll discover this is a unique place that they want to move to.
Q: Looking at the economic direction of the Southern Arizona region today, what is your ideal picture of the overall business environment 10 years from now – and how can we get there?
A: I think my vision would be a seamless interaction between incubating new companies and attracting companies that recognize that this is a place they want to be if they want to be around assets that deal with sustainability in a desert environment. And then a seamless interaction with the UofA where both the incubating operations and the big companies can partner to understand each other and actually help each other in a fundamental way.