Ana Maria Cetto
Physicist, Humanitarian, IAEA Deputy Director General
(Date of Service: 31 December 2002 - 31 December 2010)
Ana María Cetto Mexico's Woman of The Year

IAEA Deputy Director General Ana María Cetto has been named one of Mexico's Women of the Year. With a shared Nobel Peace Prize already to her credit, Dr. Cetto's latest award places her in rare and distinguished company.

The softly spoken physicist received the honour in Mexico City on 10 December 2003, along with two other scientists, Julieta Fierro and Linda Manzanilla.

The honour reflects her intense commitment to science over the past 35 years and the breakthroughs she made to our understanding of how light and matter interact in the quantum world.

Dr. Cetto has co-authored some 70 research articles, and the book The Quantum Dice, An Introduction to Stochastic Electrodynamics. But her work is not just about discovery and microscopes. It is the ethics behind the science that has driven her decades of involvement in the fight to eliminate nuclear weapons.

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Dr. Cetto was a member of the Pugwash Council (a movement of scientists committed to banning weapons of mass destruction) when it was awarded the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for its 40-year efforts.

Dr. Cetto's social and humanitarian commitments are not lost on her fellow citizens. The mother of one has helped to improve conditions for scientists in Mexico and the region. Her work as Dean of the Faculty of Sciences at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México brought better conditions for students and staff. Her focus extended to raising the profile of Latin American science.

"When you look at the international picture you realise that much of the good science that is being done in Latin America is not well known. In the scientific community there is still a top down attitude. A North-South attitude that does not allow people to recognise that in other countries, in other cultures, there is valuable scientific production.

IAEA Deputy Director General Ana María Cetto
"For many years I've tried to change that view of scientists in the North through my involvement in international scientific organisations. But at the same time I've also worked on how to promote the scientific activity in our own countries, and improve its visibility," she said.

This includes helping set up a web-based collection of all scientific and scholarly journals produced in Latin America, called LATINDEX. It is a resource now used by scientists throughout the world.

Dr. Cetto is not only extending science to the scientists but the public as well. She was responsible for setting up the Museo De la Luz what is thought to be the worlds only museum dedicated to light. Housed in a 17-century colonial church, its interactive exhibits encourage children and adults alike to explore the phenomenon of light. "When you watch the visitors, especially the young ones, enjoying it and learning at the same time you can only share their joy," Dr. Cetto said.

"The best things I've done in my life, I've not been paid for them," she laughs. "But that doesn't mean I don't want to get paid here!"

In 2003, Dr. Cetto made a quantum leap of her own to become the IAEA's first female Deputy Director General in the Agency's 47-year history. She heads the Department of Technical Cooperation (TC) , which spreads the benefits of nuclear science and technology – like cancer treatment, better nutrition and improved agriculture – to the developing world.

"I feel very fortunate to be the head of TC because it is here that we are closest to the beneficiaries of nuclear science and technology."

Water is one particular need on which Dr. Cetto is passionate. How can fresh water be provided to the millions now going without?

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"Clean water should be a universal right for everybody. But it is not. The fact that millions of people do not have safe drinking water is a sign that something is not functioning well in our societies. So we need to find out what the Agency can do to facilitate the delivery of clean water to everybody," Dr. Cetto said.

The Harvard graduate says someday she would like to continue her work as a scientist. "I have a vision and my own understanding of the quantum world. Most of which my husband Luis -- who all my life has been my best colleague -- and I have already put on paper. But some ideas are still here," she sighs, tapping her head. "It just needs to get out."

For this Mexican Woman of the Year, it sounds as if the best work is still to come. It may not be the last of Dr. Cetto’s honours.

To read other inspiring profiles of IAEA women, click on the button 'select a profile' below.