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DAA: Mauricio Antonio Lopes

Mauricio Antonio Lopes

Brasilia, Brazil | Distinguished Ag Alumni: 2014

Mauricio Antonio Lopes, M.S. ‘89, is president of EMBRAPA, the Brazilian agricultural research organization with 9,342 employees, 2,282 researchers, and an annual budget of $1.1 billion. As research director, Lopes introduced a new management model for research projects focusing on teams assembled around core themes. The success of the model resulted in Lopes being appointed Head of Research and Development at EMBRAPA, the national agricultural research corporation of Brazil, in 2000. A plant geneticist by training, Lopes’ major scientific contributions include the development and release of new varieties and improved maize germplasm for tropical areas. “The research he completed as a graduate student at Purdue made important contributions to our knowledge of how different storage proteins are synthesized and packaged in the maize kernel, a critical source of protein for both humans and animals,” said his nominator, Peter Goldsbrough, head of Purdue’s Department of Botany and Plant Pathology. Why did you select Purdue as the place to continue your education? I had received my B.S. degree in agronomy from a Brazilian university that has very close ties to Purdue. Many of its professors and administrators received their degrees from Purdue. Also, the founder and former president of my organization, EMBRAPA, received his Ph.D. from Purdue, as did many colleagues I met during the early phases of my career in Brazil. All of them spoke very proudly of their experience attending graduate school at Purdue. Their admiration was decisive in guiding me to choose Purdue to continue my education. What do you miss most about your college days at Purdue? Graduate school is about taking a deep dive into something. Having a chance to choose an interesting problem and to perform research and to critically analyze the different dimensions of that problem and implement successful courses of action was something special at that early stage of my graduate training. I also had the opportunity to experience a healthy research group environment and an effective relationship with my advisor. That experience had an impact on my training and in my professional life. Learning to work in a large research group, with several graduate students and post-docs - all of whom are extremely talented, motivated, and highly competitive - was a big challenge and also a very rewarding experience. What was the most difficult course you took at Purdue? What made it so difficult for you? Biology 520. Complex reasoning and interpretation were valued in that class, not so much black and white-type answers. Being a foreigner, the language barrier had me at a disadvantage when elaborate arguments and answers were required in quizzes and tests. I studied very hard and even entertained an illusion of getting an A. I admit I was hugely disappointed when I learned that I had received a B in that course. What is the best advice you got while you were at Purdue? Who gave you the advice? Confidence is a key to success in whatever we undertake. Prof. Larkins always tried to make us feel confident, energized, and excited about the work we had to do. He never stated it as advice, but I interpret his attitude, support, and encouragement as the best “advice” I have received in grad school: “Trust yourself, be creative, and follow your impulses.”