"Alejandro Venegas, A Mentor by Nature," by biochemist Norberto Guzmán, New Jersey, USA.

"Alejandro Venegas, A Mentor by Nature," by biochemist Norberto Guzmán, New Jersey, USA.

Many of you met Dr. Alejandro Venegas as a PhD student in Biochemistry at the University of Chile, or have already received a phD in biochemistry, or perhaps met him as a professor at the Pontifical Catholic University after returning to Chile after completing his postgraduate studies at the University of California-San Francisco, and in Chiron a biotechnology company located in Emeryville-California. Undoubtedly, for the many students, graduate students and researchers who were fortunate enough to meet him and train as professionals under his tutelage, he has left an indelible mark on them. A deep and unforgettable brand thanks to this great natural talent for teaching, and immense ability to transmit that endless background of knowledge that he always carried with him and that distinguished him as a teacher and researcher. For Alexander, research and teaching were always connected; a true scientist, as he was, is to be an eternal apprentice, all his life.

In 1965 I had the privilege of meeting him when we started our first steps in the mysterious and addictive field of biochemistry, as students of the University of Concepción. Alexander was a fairly reserved person when I first met him. Born in Chillán, and raised in Linares; his parents were pharmaceutical chemists working at the Hospital de Linares, and his mother also owned the only private clinical laboratory that existed at the time in the city. We were like two opposing poles, raised in different worlds, since I was born in Maria Elena, the most arid area of the Atacama desert and with a more extroverted personality than him. Our first encounters at the beginning were very formal, we saw each other sporadically in some classes, because the schedules were not the same. We studied in a common year of experimentation at the University of Concepción, known as "The Propedeutic", before applying for careers in the biological and chemical sciences. We shared some of those classes with Alexander, and one of the first things that struck me the most were his solid, enviable knowledge of biology and chemistry.

Our true friendship began on a platform of a train, on the famous "Night Train" that departed from Concepción to Santiago, severing in different cities of the tour including Linares. We cross once at the train station, we are located in one of the cars and so we begin to get to know each other, and become friends, during these long trips when starting holiday periods for five years. The most pleasant moments were shared when we sat on the platform of one of the train cars, singing some songs from the "Beatles" and others learned from the repertoire of the School of Chemistry and Pharmacy, and Biochemistry. We also shared joque stories that happened to some professors, or discussed problems that affected the University of Concepción at the time; so, without realizing it, the train was s stop at Linares station after traveling more than 200 kilometers. However, the next 300 kilometers to Santiago, I was made an eternity.

As a student on many occasions I turned to Alexander for help. This is where I realized your natural mentoring skills. Alexander was already fulfilling all the necessary qualities at that time:

1) provided the tools required to better study, such as notes and chapters of the subject in which he had doubts, and were available to him;

2) guided one to follow a study strategy;

3) shared books provided by his parents, supporting one to obtain information that by himself would be very difficult to obtain;

4) constantly asked me questions to make sure I understood the subject;

5) he never acted with arrogance, knowing that he knew more than I did, his attitude was altruistic and humble;

6) always listened carefully to my questions, being honest in answering, accepting what their own limits of knowledge were; and

7) indirectly he perfected himself, because when he did not know a response very well, he ensured that the next day he would answer it fully and correctly.

His desire to help and share his knowledge carried them in his genes; and I dare say, part of my success as a student I owe it to Alexander. There is a saying that says: "It is not the height, nor the body, nor the beauty that makes you a great person; but it's heart, humility and intelligence."Those were the attributes that accompanied him all his life, like a shadow that was always at his side. I think this saying was inspired by Alexander's attributes. A great teacher makes you feel great, when you have his support.

Over the years we kept in touch often. We visited in the United States (between 1977-1979; 1989-1991 and in his visits for a short time after 1992) and in Chile on the many trips I have made since the 1980s to recent before the pandemic, and also in our meetings where we participated in some Congresses. Our phone conversations and emails were frequent and continued until the last days of his life. Alejandro intervened for me to present seminars at the Pontifical Catholic University of Santiago, the University of Chile in Santiago, as well as the Diego Portales University, where he worked until almost his last years. He encouraged me to present seminars at the Congresses of the Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of Chile, and that thanks to him, I have been able to learn many of the new generations of biochemists and molecular biologists in Chile.

I want to end by saying that there is always a great treasure behind the people you admire. These people are a mirror, a reflection of one, and of the values and dreams one has. Alejandro was really that mirror, that reflection, that person that I admired, respected and considered to have been one of the great biochemists that Chile has produced, with contributions that include advances in molecular biology, biochemistry, and was also one of the pioneers in vaccines in Chile. All of us who work with Alexander nurture his professional example and extensive scientific knowledge. It should be noted that he managed to identify talent and promote the intellectual development of many scientists.

Goodbye my friend, great teacher and mentor to many who passed through your lab, and who were lucky enough to be colleagues and classmates. The seeds you planted in the formation of many biochemists and molecular biologists will bear fruit for many years in Chile and abroad.

May you rest in Peace.

Norberto Guzman, Ph.D., M.Sc.
New Jersey, USA.