Sci-Advent – Mathematics and physics help protect the sight of patients with diabetics: Sabino Chávez-Cerda

This is a translation of the article by Antimio Cruz in Crónica. You can read the original in Spanish here. As a former student of Prof. Chávez-Cerda, I am very pleased to see that his research continues getting traction and the recognition it deserves.

Exotic Beam Theory was created by Sabino Chávez-Cerda, but for over four years it was rejected until it gained acceptance.

The Mexican scientist Sabino Chávez-Cerda has received numerous international awards over thirty years for his contributions to understanding one of the most complex phenomena in nature: light. This year, together with one of his graduates and other collaborators from Mexico and England, he presented a model that reproduces with great precision the operation of the flexible lens located behind the iris of the human eye: the crystalline lens. This work was recognised as one of the most important investigations in optics of the year 2020 by the magazine Optics and Photonics News.

Now, in conversation for the readers of Crónica, the researcher from the Instituto National de Asfrofísica, Óptica y Electrónica (INAOE) in Mexico says that we all should be made aware that science is much closer to our daily life than we imagine. For example, his studies are able to help care better for the eyes of patients with diabetes.

“My studies on how light travels have enabled me and my collaborators to make important contributions through the use of the physics and mathematics, the same that everyone is able to learn. I have made new interpretations that at first were rejected and with the availability of more evidence they have ended up being accepted”, says the man who created the Theory of Exotic Beams for which he was elected as Fellow member in 2013, one of the most important accolades in the field, by the Optical Society of America (OSA), one of the most prestigious organisations in the world.

“My recent work with the lenses of human eyes began in an interesting way. A few years ago some ophthalmologist surgeons from Puebla, Mexico, invited us to organise a seminar on how light propagates. This was because they had equipment to perform laser surgeries, but they had doubts on the subject aberrations. I then realised that what we were investigating about beams could be of great use in healthcare,” says Chávez-Cerda, who since childhood has lived in many cities in Mexico and abroad. He mentions that one of the things he most enjoys is watching the sunset on the shores of the Mexican Pacific.

“I was born in Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico. My father was an agronomist and we had to move many times. So during my childhood and youth I lived in Nayarit, Veracruz, Guanajuato and Mexico City”, says the physicist and PhD who has also carried out research in England, China, Brazil and the United States.

COMPLEX QUESTIONS – Light is the part of electromagnetic radiation that can be perceived by the human eye and that may have a complex behaviour. It is made up of photons, which have the duality of being a wave and a massless particle. The field of science that studies light, optics, has become so diverse that today it can be compared to a tree with diverse branches: including the study of fibre optics, the use of laser light, non-linear optics and many more. 

“For example, physical optics tries to understand how light travels and how it changes when an obstruction or lens is put on its path. We have all seen when a CD generates a rainbow when placed in front of a light source. This is due to the physical phenomenon called diffraction, just like holograms. What happens there is that the light is ‘spread’ and that is one of the many phenomena that we study ”, details the INAOE researcher whose individual and team work averages around 4 thousand citations in four of the main databases of scientific articles: Web of Science (WoS), Scopus, Research Gate and Google Scholar.

His long academic career is based on his bachelor’s degree from the Escuela Superior de Física y Matemáticas (ESFM) of the Instituto Politécnico National (IPN) in Mexico. He later obtained an MSc at Centro the Investigaciones en Óptica (CIO) in León, Guanajuato, Mexico and his PhD in England, at the Imperial College London (IC).

The story of how he created the theory of exotic beams may require a larger, separate text. However, it is worth saying that it started from some reports made in the 1980s by the University of Rochester claiming that it was possible to create beams of light that were not ‘spread’ or did not show diffraction. That caused a stir because it violates the laws of physics and mathematics. When the Dr Chávez-Cerda showed interest in studying the subject his own English supervisors told him that they did not believe it was worth pursuing. He dedicated though several hours to study this and after performing many calculations and computer simulations he was able to find an answer that was not immediately understood by us all: the beams of light that did not ‘spread’ were not beams, but instead apparent beams, resulting from a phenomenon called interference.

“When I proposed this theory, it was rejected for four years. Over and over again they rejected my articles, but I improved and improved my ideas until there was no argument to reject them ”, says the professor who says that since he was young he has treasured two activities that he practiced for many years and that gave him love for discipline and freedom: martial arts and regional dance.

Now, he has received awards such as the annual award from the European Optical Society and the recognition of “Visiting Foreign Researcher of Excellence” by the Government of China. He is also able to boast his graduate students; today scientists who have membership in the National System of Researchers (SNI) in Mexico. [Translator note: and a few of us that are abroad too!!! — Thanks Sabino!]

“The human virtue that I value the most is honesty,” says the teacher, husband and father of two adult sons, and two 13-year-old twins. “Throughout my life and my professional experience I have met people who, due to lack of honesty, prevent me from moving in the right direction. That is why I know that when there is honesty, one can advance and everyone can grow a lot,” says the man who remembers the day his mother took him to a new elementary school in Tepic, Mexico where they were rude to both of them”. She told me, ‘Be the best you can,’ and that’s when I became good at maths,” he shared with Crónica’s readers.

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