Daniel Romo is the Schotts Professor of Chemistry at Baylor University and Co-Director of the CPRIT Synthesis and Drug-Lead Discovery Laboratory. During the 2016 National Hispanic Education Summit hosted by Baylor University, Romo sat down with Andrea Ramirez, the executive director of the Faith and Education Coalition of the NHCLC, to discuss how his love of science is rooted in his love of God.
Romo is a second-generation Mexican American, the father of four and husband to Laura Romo. He has a particular interest in the intersection of science and Christian faith.
What would you like to say to students who have an interest in science at a young age? And what would you like to share with parents or grandparents who fear that science and faith don’t mix?
One of my heroes in science is Johannes Kepler, who was probably the first physical astronomer. He actually broke out in song because he discovered something really cool in science and astronomy. He wrote about it in a notebook, giving glory to God for that new finding. The idea that we “explore the world that God created” really resonates with me. And it’s basically what I do.
We have a way, as scientists, to explore the world and try to understand what God created. He gave us a playground, if you will, to actually go and explore the world.
I've never heard science described that way. It’s an interesting word picture to help us experience joy in exploring His creation and to see scientific study as a gift. I know you see the Lord's hand in cancer research.
Yes, we enjoy funding that allows us to do research on the treatment side of cancer prevention and treatment. We're interested in identifying new compounds that might have potential as anti-cancer agents.
I can tell you a little bit about natural products because that's my area of expertise. What are natural products? They are compounds isolated from natural sources. For example, God has created bacteria and plants with an incredible capacity to make small molecules, which scientists can use to understand more about the cell. We study how cells function, both normal cells and cancer cells. We harvest the information that God indirectly gave us through these small molecules. Due to our study and the work of others, these compounds are often being used now to treat cancer.
In reference to small molecules, are these molecules in items that we eat? Or where do we find these potential molecules?
These molecules come from, for example, bacteria. These bacteria produce small molecules for a variety of reasons including self-defense. Bacteria will produce compounds like antibiotics that kill other bacteria. We can study those molecules and use them to combat other bacteria, bacteria that affect human bodies.
Likewise, plants have produced compounds, natural products, which are being used clinically for cancer treatment. These are small molecules that natural organisms produce. But humans have been able to harvest this information because the small molecules interact with proteins we find inside cells.
I know many of our readers have been impacted by cancer, in one way or another. My mom is a cancer survivor, and we recently lost a friend to cancer. So your work is really impacting future generations to keep their family members longer here on earth to enjoy rich relationships and bring glory to God. Moms, dads, and grandparents can live healthy lives longer and share their influence and wisdom.
Some of those young people who have an interest in science now, in grade school or high school, may find that God is inviting them into this legacy of research focused on natural products that benefit cancer prevention and treatment. It's a part of our scientific playground in the natural world. That's such a great word picture.
You reminded me of Ezekiel 47:12, a verse that my father showed me many years ago. The verse describes a river coming from the temple and on either side of the river are trees. It says the fruit of these trees is for food and the leaves for healing. It actually mentions natural products, small molecules, in the Bible. Again it’s an encouragement to me to further explore this area of science.
You mentioned Kepler praising God when he made a discovery in the natural world. Christians can be motivated by science and discovery then subsequently praise Him for His provision. What obstacles did you face as you entered this field of study? Can you share a bit about your own story?
One story I like to share with my students is how I ended up in this career. When I started as an undergraduate at Texas A&M, I was interested in dental school – not medical research. So I suggest that students stay open to all options for the future. When you start your undergraduate career, you have an idea of what you’d like to do professionally, but God may have a better plan.
I started taking organic chemistry in college, and that just clicked with me. For some reason it just came very easily and I thought I might have stumbled onto what God wanted me to do. After a while, I just couldn't see myself looking at people's teeth for the rest of my life! I was able to do research with my first organic chemistry professor, and he was an inspiration to me.
The obstacles I encountered were actually the other courses I had to take. Courses such as physical chemistry, for me, were a little too abstract. But it was a requirement, something I had to do. Beyond the courses you're really excited about, you have to take other classes to round out your education.
That’s a good word for students. You can push yourself to excel and grow, even in classes you don’t love, because it grows your character and mind in ways you may not observe until later.
The theme verse for our Faith and Education Coalition is found in the Old Testament and New Testament. It’s to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” As we think about that, loving the Lord with all of our minds in particular, what does that phrase mean to you?
There are great writers in this area of thought. JP Moreland, the Christian philosopher and theologian, wrote a book entitled Love the Lord your God with All Your Mind. William Lane Craig, another philosopher and apologist, also writes about how Christians mesh these things. I also love how 1 Thessalonians talks about testing all things and holding on to what is good. To me, that's the scientific method in a nutshell.
I see being excited about science as a way to be excited about God. I try to convey this to my own children as well as my students.
Thank you, Dr. Romo. I encourage readers to hold on to your wise insight: to love science is really to love God and explore this playground he has provided for us.