Rafael Navarro’s legacy will endure
Rafael Navarro (Photo: Courtesy UNAM)

Only death could put an end to the successful career of Rafael Navarro González, a prominent researcher from the Institute of Nuclear Sciences at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

He died in a Mexico City hospital on January 28, due to complications resulting from Covid-19. He was 61 years old.

“I received the news that he’d passed away at 11:30 a.m. His daughter notified me by text message. I feel very sad. However, we’re going to build on the legacy of this great academic,” says María del Pilar Carreón Castro, the Institute’s director, in an interview for Tec Review.

As well as being on the Curiosity project (Mars exploration rovers) in collaboration with NASA, Navarro González came up with the plan to find a sterile surface similar to that of the red planet in the Atacama Desert in Chile, in order to carry out experiments that could later be replicated on Martian soil.

“He also had a project on the role of volcanic lightning in the origin of life,” explains Carreón Castro, who says she will contact Navarro’s collaborators and students to ensure these investigations continue.

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Two weeks away from seeing new probes reach the red planet

“It’s a huge loss. Rafael was not only a researcher with an outstanding career, but he was also a very kind person who created an entire working group at the UNAM,” says José Franco, a researcher at the University’s Institute of Astronomy, in an interview for Tec Review.

Franco confirms that Navarro was the UNAM’s expert in the search for life on other planets, particularly on Mars.

“The new probes were sent in the middle of last year. Unfortunately, he died a couple of weeks before they reached Mars,” says the scientist.

There are three orbital probes –NASA’s Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance, and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express– which are already close to that planet and will study the Martian crust and atmosphere.

“Rafa, who followed the experiments conducted by the United States very closely, was unable to see them,” says Franco.

Navarro also dedicated a large part of his career to science communication. “A lot of children wanted to study astrobiology because of him. What’s more, he was the one who began this area of study in Mexico,” explains the director of the Institute of Nuclear Sciences.

She tells us that although Rafael could have worked in the United States, he decided to stay in his country.

“He always wanted to work in Mexico. Not just in Mexico, but at the UNAM in particular,” María del Pilar Carreón concludes.