Sept. 12-25, 2003
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New welcome mat rolled out for graduate students

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Gomez sees blend of knowledge as key
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Tuesday Evening Concert Series opens season
Cyclist pushes her limits
Gomez sees blend of knowledge as key
He brings people together, realizing there are only artificial lines between disciplines
Ariel Gomez
Photo by Fariss Samarrai
Ariel Gomez

By Fariss Samarrai

When Ariel Gomez was a child growing up in Buenos Aires, his mother suggested that he become a doctor.

“She said it was a most honorable profession,” he said.

He accepted the idea and knew that if he were to become a physician he would have to find the resources through his intellect.

“My mother is very creative and never afraid of taking a challenge,” he said. “She infused me with the same beliefs.”

Today, Gomez is a physician, leading kidney researcher, and U.Va.’s vice president for research and graduate studies.

But when Gomez entered the Instituto “Lomas de Zamora” as an undergraduate, he quickly discovered a world of knowledge that presented a great dilemma when it came to determining a career field.

“I discovered many wonderful things,” he said. “Literature, physics, mathematics. I liked it all.”

He ultimately decided on medicine because it is an art that applies science to the solution of specific problems, a blending, in effect, of disciplines, including its intrinsic humanistic grounding. That blending of knowledge is a theme of Gomez’s mission to make the University great in science and technology.

“U.Va. can be the place where diabetes is cured, where cancer is cured. This will be a place where big problems are solved by good people working together across the disciplines,” he said.

His first steps down the path toward medicine were at the University of Buenos Aires School of Medicine. He eventually became the chief resident in pediatrics at the Hospital for Sick Children, and later a pediatrician who did home visits, an opportunity to work with the whole family in its own environment.

But he had been taught in medical school that knowledge always had to be upgraded. Gomez decided he wanted to be on the cutting edge. He wanted to do research, to create the new knowledge that would improve medicine and the treatment of patients.

Eventually he took a fellowship to do children’s kidney research at the University of Iowa. “I wanted to learn how others think,” he said. “I realized there were many sources of knowledge, and science is also an international activity.”

He was a young man and barely spoke or wrote English, but he learned to read scientific journals in English by continually consulting his Spanish-English dictionary. He worked long hours, became competent in English, and ultimately published several papers in American scientific journals.

“I had a very demanding boss,” he said. “But he taught me how to get things done.”
Gomez got plenty done and moved on to a fellowship at the University of California at San Francisco and continued his research, became fluent in English and published more papers. Then he came to Charlottesville and “fell in love” with the small city and the University. The late Michael Peach, a renowned pharmacologist and researcher who mentored many investigators, adopted Gomez “like a son,” becoming his unofficial but most effective adviser.

“He taught me how to focus on the fundamental ideas and many concepts of experimental design and critical thinking,” Gomez said.

At Peach’s insistence, Gomez soon began collaborating with a young investigator who arrived at the University around the same time — Kevin Lynch, now an internationally known professor of pharmacology who taught Gomez many aspects of molecular biology. They made several important contributions to the understanding of how the kidney produces a hormone that regulates its own development.

“We learned from each other, and were able to make advances that would not have been possible without this multidisciplinary collaboration,” Gomez said.

As the lab grew, other researchers were drawn to the exciting molecular physiology being conducted there.

The grants came in, particularly from the National Institutes of Health, and the lab was expanded, eventually leading to the creation of the Children’s Health Research Center. Gomez directed the center until recently, and still conducts research there.

The success of this enterprise led Gomez to administration. He already knew how to win grants, to organize people and resources, to get things done. And he knew how to collaborate, to bring people together for a common cause. It all led back to his love of knowledge, and a realization that there are only artificial lines between the disciplines, that the body of knowledge is a blending of all that is known and all that will be discovered.

Gomez came to serve on the University’s 2020 Commission for Science and Technology and met Vice President and Provost Gene Block, who at the time was vice president for research.

“Gene has had a tremendously positive influence on me,” Gomez said. “He is an outstanding scientist and superb leader.”

Block was impressed with Gomez’s ability to develop collaborations, and took him as an adviser. Gomez played a large role in helping to establish the new multidisciplinary Morphogenesis and Regenerative Medicine Institute, which followed a recommendation of the 2020 Commission. Barry M. Gumbiner, a prominent cell biologist, was hired last year to head the center.

Eventually, when Block was promoted to vice president and provost, Gomez was selected to lead the University’s research office.

“We were impressed with Ariel’s vision for moving the University forward in science and technology,” Block said. “It is very important and valuable to have the insight and leadership of a successful and respected active researcher in this office.”

Gomez said he is working hard to sustain and nurture the people who are already here, and to attract the best faculty and graduate students possible from diverse backgrounds.

“We are building a supportive and creative research environment,” he said. “Concepts change the world, and excellence is our goal at the University of Virginia.”


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