From the City of Eternal Spring to Gothenburg

This is his first visit to Sweden, but he hopes it won’t be his last. Remigio Cabrera Trujillo is one of a number of Mexican teachers and students to have come to Gothenburg as part of an international exchange programme.

Despite never having visited Sweden before, he understands a surprising amount of Swedish. This is thanks to the fact that he carried out his third-cycle education in Denmark in the mid-1990s.
“I wanted to go to the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, but ended up at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense through my supervisor’s contacts.”

Niels Bohr, an atomic physicist and Nobel Laureate from Denmark, has been a strong source of inspiration for Remigio, and he cheerfully shows copies of Bohr’s thesis which he keeps at his office. His thesis on the penetration of atomic particles through matter has the same title as Remigio’s own thesis.

His research within atomic and molecular physics then led him – via the USA – back to Mexico, where he currently works at the federal Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. In September, he returned to Scandinavia through an exchange programme between his home university and the University of Gothenburg’s Department of Physics. During his five weeks in Gothenburg, he is working as a temporary teacher on the course in mathematical physics for students studying the second year of the programme in physics.

“His presence here means we can offer our students a number of additional classes and practice sessions,” says Professor of Physics Dag Hanstorp.

This has proven popular with the students. Remigio explains that it took a week or two for the students to find their way to his office, but that they have since started visiting him for extra help with maths.
“Mathematical methods are the basis for all physics, and this course represents the foundation for ongoing understanding of the subject of physics.”

Remigio hails from the Mexican city of Cuernavaca, directly south of Mexico City. Cuernavaca is known as ‘the City of the Eternal Spring’, thanks to its year-round temperatures of around 20-25°C. As well as the climate differences between Sweden and Mexico, there are also clear differences between the two countries’ students. For example, Mexican students’ English language skills are not as good as those of their Swedish counterparts, although their skills have improved over the years. Physics students in Mexico are also overwhelmingly male, and the number of students is considerably fewer.
“Back home we have maybe five to eight students studying physics, while here in Gothenburg there are 25 studying physics as their main subject.”

 He believes that the reason why so few students choose physics is the perception that physics and maths are difficult subjects. This, combined with the emergence of new areas such as web design, makes it hard to attract young people to study physics.

Remigio has a research position, and doesn’t actually need to teach. But he has eight hours per week to spend as he wishes, and he has chosen to devote these to teaching and various external activities. He therefore teaches at the state Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos, located directly across the street from his home University.
“The two universities cooperate in the same way that the University of Gothenburg and Chalmers University of Technology do here in Gothenburg.”

 Remigio hasn’t been put off by the cold, damp autumn weather in Gothenburg, and he is already planning to return next year.
“Gothenburg is a nice city, and I’ve made lots of contacts that I can benefit from in my research. Although I’ve been here to teach, we’ve discussed research issues in the corridors and during the coffee breaks you call ‘fika’. I love ‘fika’,” he laughs.

Exchange programme

The Department of Physics has established a partnership with Mexico during the past few years, and receives support from the Linnaeus-Palme exchange programme to send teaching staff and students in both directions.

Linnaeus-Palme is an exchange programme for university teaching staff and students. The first section, Linnaeus, gives Swedish teaching staff and students the opportunity to teach and study in various developing countries. The second section, Palme, gives teaching staff and students from developing countries the opportunity to teach and study in Sweden.