As a part of the LGBT and Latino communities, I’m dedicated to tackling diseases which disproportionately impact us.”

Alexander Buitrago Santanilla, Ph.D.

Even as a young boy growing up in Colombia, Alexander Buitrago Santanilla was intrigued by how things fit together.

“I used to pick through books that were left out by my aunts or my mom when I was younger,” he remembers. “My favorite was this science book that I would flip through to see these cute, little structures. And I always wanted to understand what they meant. Later on, I started to realize how these little structures actually helped cure people from disease. And that’s what really triggered my desire to get into this field.”

Working with Merck Research Laboratories Postdoctoral Research Fellow Program

Now in his third year as a post-doc in Merck Research Laboratory’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow Program, Alexander currently works in the Catalysis and Automation Lab in our Process Chemistry Department. As a post-doc, Alexander works alongside researchers and collaborators to obtain experience in drug discovery and development and hopefully discover and develop medicines and vaccines that help meet the world's pressing unmet medical needs.

“It’s such a great experience and very enriching professionally,” he says of the fellowship. “You get the opportunity to be exposed to all the new science that is going on not only in the world of chemistry but also within the industry.”

It lets him figure out how to build those “cute, little structures” that so enticed him as a child. “I kind of describe what I do as a glue-maker,” he says with a laugh. “Imagine a medicine — but think of it as a huge big brick wall. And it just so happens that in chemistry, all of those bricks aren’t the same size but we still need to figure out how to fit them together. So, because they are different, they all need a different type of glue. My job is to create a glue to construct that wall.”

A personal connection

Alexander also brings a personal connection to his work. “As a part of the LGBT and Latino communities, I’m dedicated to tackling diseases which disproportionately impact us. And I feel that Merck has taken the lead in research for both diabetes and HIV /AIDS. What I’ve always admired is Merck’s commitment to helping patients with these diseases.”

Just a few years after earning his Ph.D., Alexander finds himself doing things he originally envisioned doing years – even decades – in the future “Merck is changing the post-doc experience by exposing the graduates and scientists to super cutting-edge technology,” he says. “The focus on technology here has actually allowed me to not only be creative, but also do ground-breaking work.”

Name: Alexander Buitrago Santanilla, Ph.D.

Title: Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Process Chemistry, Catalysis and Automation

Education: B.Sc., University of California, Los Angeles; Ph.D., Columbia University

Favorite Downtime Activity: Devoted ballet and opera fan

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