Heilyn Calvo Vargas (‘22, Costa Rica) was curious when someone brought a microscope to her elementary school. The visit surprised her because, due to the remoteness of her rural community, it was almost unthinkable to have access to technology like computers or microscopes. What she saw shocked her: the minuscule morphology of tree leaves, of an ant, and a flower. From that moment, she knew she wanted to dedicate herself to something as yet unnamed, but something she did all the time – following processes, experimenting, and seeking results.
In high school, she understood her passion was science. For instance, she was doing science when she put fertilizer on one of her cilantro plants and not on another, to see what would happen. At her technical high school, she chose to study agriculture to continue experimenting with technology in agriculture.
In 2016, when she was just 15, she talked with a biotechnologist who worked at her school, about the challenges faced by coffee seedling producers, like her parents. They discussed crop diseases, sustainable methods, and the economic challenges of the business. Following this conversation, with support from her teacher, Heilyn began developing a project to introduce coffee embryos in vitro to produce aseptic plants for distribution in the area. During the process, she discovered that several hormones accelerated germination, which meant she could help farmers improve production times at a lower cost. She also found that she could germinate more resistant plants through this alteration that only needed to be acclimatized.
For three years, Heilyn participated with this project in Expo Ingeniería, a space promoted by the Costa Rican Ministry of Education, to encourage young people to solve social problems through engineering, observation, and science. The idea evolved and improved each year until it won the 2017 and 2018 competitions. She also won first place in the Science and Technology Fair and fulfilled her dream of traveling to Panama and the United States to present her results in front of hundreds of youth from Latin America and the world.
When choosing a career and a university, Heilyn carefully analyzed her options and decided she wanted to study in a place that had opportunities to grow professionally and personally. She wanted to be somewhere that would challenge her, open new doors, and above all, that would allow her to pursue science. All this led her to EARTH.
“Since I was little, because of where I come from, I’ve been very aware of social problems like hunger, poverty, and climate change. When I chose agronomy, I thought about all the solutions I could generate for these global challenges. At EARTH, I have the opportunity to broaden my perspective and learn about the challenges that my peers in different countries face, such as water supply. During my four years of studying, I have been able to develop different projects in biotechnology, and now I am doing my graduation project with soil analysis and precision agriculture. I also did my internship at the Biotechnology Research Center of the Technological Institute of Costa Rica. There, I was able to investigate mutations in rice farming to achieve herbicide resistance and in vitro multiplication in different crops,” she says enthusiastically.
In the future, Heilyn plans to specialize in science diplomacy to participate in decision-making processes. She wants science to go beyond research to respond and connect with real issues. She sees herself working to improve crops resilience against climate change and supporting small farmers in rural areas to enhance their agricultural practices and economic stability through technology.
She has chosen to be an inspiration to other young women, and she imagines creating spaces where girls and women can experiment, observe, and do science, just as she has done since childhood.
Heilyn is a leader and a brilliant mind from whom ideas emerge that will undoubtedly change the world.