I was raised in Caracas, Venezuela, in the 1980s by a single mother who worked in a lab as a physicist and microbiologist. She was too busy doing experiments during the day to pick me up from school, located almost an hour away from her office. So when the last bell rang, I would run outside, climb onto a special schoolbus full of children whose parents were also scientists, and, after wasting another hour in traffic, I would get dropped off at my mom's lab—the Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas (IVIC). This was where I spent all my afternoons, surrounded by centrifuges, water tanks, lab animals, and test tubes. The place was full of fascinating people, many of whom would also spend considerable amounts of time teaching at the Universidad Central de Venezuela in downtown Caracas, going abroad on scholarships or doing research at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution here in the United States.
IVIC is the main scientific and research hub of Venezuela, founded in 1959 as an autonomous institution. Its mission, among others, was to nurture new and young Venezuelan talent and advance global scientific inquiry in fields like ecology, biophysics, genetics, immunology, microbiology, and others. One of the many well-known and charismatic researchers working there was my mother's boss, Reinaldo DiPolo, an expert on neurophysiology and winner of the National Prize in Natural Sciences of Venezuela.
This past August, without a warning, DiPolo received a photocopied letter that terminated his 35 years of work with the IVIC. Twenty-six other leading scientists, all of them formally retired but who continued conducting research and mentoring younger professionals, were asked to go for good.