Hotspot: Andrés Cisneros in the Zone

chemical modelOct. 17, 2017 – What does prostate cancer in African Americans have to do with 32 dual-deca Sky-Lake nodes and four dual NVidia K80 GPU nodes?

At UNT, Professor Gerardo Andrés Cisneros, a computational chemist, uses these tools and other high-performance computing resources to find better methods required to answer "the big questions" of human health. Dr. Cisneros, a nationally awarded investigator, and his group of about 10 students develop and apply computational simulation methods to investigate a variety of chemical and biochemical systems, including DNA repair enzymes and their relation to cancer, ionic liquids, and inorganic complexes.

Dr. Andres Cisneros standing in front of a computer tower.Known as Andrés, he and his research team have used computational tools to uncover novel cancer biomarkers and aid in the development of imaging agents for diagnostic purposes, drug development, and investigation of condensed-phase systems, among other applications. (For information about University IT's support of compute clusters, visit UIT HPC.)

The Cisneros Group's computer cluster includes a 36-node cluster, 32 nodes each with dual deca (Intel E5-2660/32GB RAM) CPUs. The other four nodes have one Intel E5-2660/32 GB memory and two NVIDIA Tesla K80 each. All nodes are connected via 56 GB Mellanox InfiniBand and 10 GB Juniper Networks Ethernet backplanes. This cluster is part of the UNT Center for Advanced Scientific Computing and Modeling, CASCaM, which hosts several other clusters as well.

The computational equipment is managed and maintained by David Hrovat, Ph.D., UNT research scientist, and high-performance computing facilities manager. Dr. Cisneros also collaborates with Robert Duke, UNT research scientist and senior scientific programmer, he said.

Originally from Mexico City, Dr. Cisneros is a graduate of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico where he earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry. He earned his doctoral degree in chemistry from Duke University, Durham, N.C., but came to UNT from Wayne State University, Detroit, Mich., where he was an associate professor of chemistry. 

Andres Cisneros and familyQuick to smile, he really brightens up when describing his precocious sons who are five and eight or talking about his wife, UNT Spanish Professor Talia Weltman-Cisneros, Ph.D., whom he met at Duke University. Dr. Weltman-Cisneros is from South Africa and pictured left on a recent trip to her home country with her family and a white tiger cub. Dr. Cisneros says he wants to take his family of globetrotters to Brazil someday.

"On the third date, I cooked for her," he said, citing his good cooking and dancing ability for winning over his bride. His favorite meal is "tacos de parilla" – grilled meat tacos. With family in Michigan, Dr. Cisneros visited the U.S. often over the years since he was a boy, he said. Nowadays, he enjoys family time and playing baseball with his sons to relax and find a good work-life balance. He also enjoys reading. As a fencer and an avid enthusiast of the sport for many years, Dr. Cisneros says one of his favorite books is The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. He also enjoys reading works by Tom Clancy, John Grisham, and Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

Named as a STEM Research Exemplar by the P. I. Program offered through the Center for Clinical and Research Ethics at Washington University in St. Louis, in collaboration with Saint Louis University faculty, Dr. Cisneros serves as a role model for non-traditional and underrepresented minority students. He plans to visit a Dallas high school where half of the student body in each class washes out by the 10th grade. His definition of failure is not trying, he said, and mediocrity makes him angry – well, that and bad drivers. However, his exemplary academic success can be a beacon of hope to students who may benefit from a role model.

Critical thinking, he said, is the key intellectual strength one needs to be a chemist. Thinking about various ways to solve problems, to find newer and better methods also can be the way to a better life and overcoming disadvantages or challenges – and taking that message to high schools is important to him, he said.

Dr. Cisneros' office bookshelf with mementos and gifts from students.Proud of his UNT students, Cisneros enjoys his time with them while teaching Introduction to Computational Chemistry and Computational Chemistry and Biochemistry while overseeing individual research and doctoral candidates. A top bookshelf in his office has empty Freixenet sparkling wine bottles signed by each student he guided through a successful doctoral program. Other shelves boast a collection of mementos and gifts from his students from Iraq, India and other distant homelands. The wall next to his chair has a beautiful snow scene painted by his maternal grandmother.

computer hardware bladeOne thing he will never understand though, Dr. Cisneros said, is the value society puts – or doesn't put – on education. Calling out a school district's decision to invest $70 million in a high school football stadium for 12,000 spectators, he is in a quandary about why sports spending is in a category far above that of a hobby or pure physical education. Do you know what a computational chemist could do with $70 million?

You might need more than a supercomputer to calculate that.

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