In 1956, he started the important work of sharing knowledge about science and technology with others, through various means of communication. From July 1981 to July 2022, engineer Tomás Unger continuously published his articles in the newspaper El Comercio. In this special edition, we chatted with him to learn more about his predictions regarding the development of science, technology and innovation in Peru and the world.
– Don Tomás, you have been named the most important celebrity of science in Peru, how do you feel about that?
I didn’t have more competition, so it’s not to my advantage. Such were the circumstances. I owe a lot to my parents. I was lucky, they were people with a scientific vocation and encouraged my curiosity. My father was an engineer, professor of thermodynamics and dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the National School of Engineers, and my mother had a PhD in chemistry from the University of Padua. At home we had science books, my father also taught me … I liked to explain to my school friends how everything works. When I knew, I’d answer, and when I didn’t know, I’d go and ask my dad, then come back and explain. I think he had some profession as a teacher. I like to explain.
– How important is your time in the pages of El Comercio in your opinion?
For me it was decisive. Being a science and technology publisher has opened many doors for me to meet scientists, inventors, laboratories, science colleges… places where science is taught and done. For example, I’ve been able to go to Antarctica on an exploration ship (BIC Humboldt), I’ve been to labs in Japan and Europe, and I’ve seen places I wouldn’t have imagined. I learned about disciplines that I would not have had time to study without the help of the people who took the trouble to teach me. Thank God there were people willing to share their knowledge and work with me. Through the page, readers were able to learn about and interview scholars and read about what was happening in Peru and in the world. I’d like to believe I helped inform and make science more accessible; That it is not seen as something vague or complex. Science, after all, is the study of everything around us.
What invention or advance in science and technology surprised you the most?
the Discoveries about space and the universe. What amazed me was the immensity of the universe. Progress in space exploration has been a constant source of astonishment. I wish I was an astronaut.
– How did you delay seeing the future? What are the things that were expected to happen in this new century that have not happened yet?
It depends on who the question is being asked. Optimists always fall short. Pessimists like me are always closer to the events that happen. Human nature will not change according to the time scale of a lifetime, so I did not expect to see major changes in the problems facing humanity.
What progress would you most like to see?
Recycle everything. We shouldn’t rule anything out. Everything must be given a new use and a new life, for we cannot keep extracting and polluting. I’d like to see us use it all again, even reflection. Imagine what it would be like to be able to pass on ideas, keep them going, learn… that is, pass on experiences and ideas so that others don’t have to start from scratch. I would like to be able to pass on all my knowledge and experience to my children. My mother-in-law said: The devil knows old age better than being a devil.
How do you see the future of scientific publishing in Peru? What do we need?
All over the world – in Peru too – a good basic education is needed: arithmetic, physics, geography and biology. You have to study thinking, and of course, good schools for everyone. It’s basic. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if you want good professionals, you should invest in education. We have to realize the importance of basic education. Teaching must be respected and well paid.
What is missing from encouraging more young people to decide on careers in engineering or science?
Good education and opportunities. If you give a boy the opportunity to see up close what a scientist – for example, a marine biologist – does, his curiosity and interest will probably lead him to the study of this field. When starting out, no one knows all the possibilities. Children should have opportunities to see scientific work up close, and even set up workgroups and competitions, whatever is necessary for them to learn and get excited about.
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