In the interest of full disclosure, we’ve always had a soft spot for Dr. García-Rubio. As one of the founders of Ocean Optics, García-Rubio has been a key contributor, collaborator and mentor for nearly three decades, long after his day-to-day relationship with the company ended several years ago. What’s more, several of his former students from the University of South Florida have made significant contributions to Ocean Optics in applied research and engineering.
At a young age, García-Rubio was instilled with a love for science by his grandfather and with a strong work ethic by his parents. Luis has always been inspired by the accomplishments of mankind and the sense of adventure that discovery and innovation bring. The challenges of interdisciplinary science were made apparent early on through the example of his grandfather, who combined engineering with a passion for chemistry and botany.
Dr. García-Rubio graduated with a Chemical Engineering degree from the National University in Mexico, and has master’s and doctorate degrees from McMaster University in Canada. Over the last 40 years he has held positions at many companies including the Mexican Oil Company, Xerox Research and Ocean Optics. In addition he was a Professor of Chemical Engineering and of Marine Science at the University of South Florida. Through his tenure at the University of South Florida García-Rubio has graduated 21 doctorate students; for the majority of those students, spectroscopy has been central to their research.
Today, García-Rubio is president and chief scientific officer for Claro Scientific LLC, a developer of particle characterization services and instrumentation for industrial and biomedical instrumentation.
Question: What first inspired your interest in science?
LGR: My grandfather graduated from Brooklyn Polytechnic [now known as the Polytechnic Institute of New York University – Brooklyn] with a degree in Engineering, worked for the Mexican Oil Company and, when he retired, was able to dedicate his time to his passions: chemistry and botany. Through his example I was introduced early on to the scientific thought process, the rigors of experimentation — both chemical and biological — and to the necessary bookkeeping to keep track of the results. I was also able to enjoy his wonderful books, tools and microscopes.
Question: You’ve been an academic and an entrepreneur. What have been the biggest challenges in starting and running Claro Scientific, which you co-founded in 2006?
LGR: The experience gained through my interactions with industry, my research programs, and my travels suggested that there are many applications for spectroscopy that require modularity, miniaturization, and rigorous application of both theoretical and statistical models for the interpretation of the wealth of information accessible through spectroscopy measurements. The experience with Ocean Optics suggested that it is possible to use this powerful instrumentation for in situ measurements; in other words it is possible to take the measurements to the processes, whether these are in chemical plants, as part of bedside biomedical applications, or in environmental processes.
There is also a great need, through the majority of the world, for suitable instrumentation to be deployed for public heath purposes, particularly in areas of endemic diseases and infections. The mission of Claro is the development and integration of technology for in situ measurements and applications to industrial, environmental and biomedical processes.
Having established Claro’s purpose, I can answer the question: The first challenge was the selection of the initial staff for Claro because their background had to be interdisciplinary; they had to have engineering and prototyping capabilities and the ability to work together; and they had to be fearless to tackle any problem or challenge presented to them. I can tell you that I am very proud of their accomplishments and commitment to our mission.
We have applied spectroscopy in an innovative way that has resulted in disruptive applications ranging from protein analysis and vaccine characterization, to the monitoring of blood cultures and identification of bacteria. The disruptive aspect of the applications creates a perception of added risk that has limited investment. There is also a little bit of a credibility problem; how is it that a measurement with an economical spectrometer like an Ocean Optics instrument contains such a wealth of information?
Question: What is the most rewarding part of your work?
LGR: The most rewarding part of my work has been at the university — teaching through research and interacting with the students, and watching them grow scientifically and as people. At Claro the most rewarding parts are the research challenges, the learning that we have to do every day, and watching the enthusiasm with which our group interacts and develops new ideas.
Question: What surprises you most about science and technology today?
LGR: The level of technology integration and miniaturization including computers; every day more information is generated and as a result more complex questions are being generated. Although this should not be surprising, one cannot but watch with amazement the new frontiers that are being unraveled.
Question: What profession would you like to pursue if you weren’t a scientist?
LGR: A test pilot. The best part of being a test pilot is the risk and adrenaline that goes with it … the rest is just logistics. In fact, I am taking flying lessons, to everyone’s concern (;).