Author: Kimberly Smith

Kim is a biomedical researcher turned science writer who loves creating accessible science content that encourages enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering, and math in kids and adults.

Posts by Kimberly Smith

Career Conversations: Q&A With Physiologist Elimelda Moige Ongeri

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A headshot of Dr. Ongeri.
Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Elimelda Moige Ongeri.

A career path in science is rarely clear cut and linear, which Elimelda Moige Ongeri, Ph.D., can attest adds to its excitement. She went from working in animal reproductive biology to studying proteins involved in inflammation and tissue injury. Dr. Ongeri is also currently dean of the Hairston College of Health and Human Sciences and professor of physiology at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T) in Greensboro. In this interview, she shares details of her career, including a change in research focus to human physiology; her goals for the future; and advice for students.

Q: How did you first become interested in science?

A: I was born and raised in Kenya, and, at that time, junior high students were required to select a path to pursue (e.g., the arts or the sciences) and three specific subjects to focus on. My teachers encouraged me to pursue the science path, and I eventually chose to focus on biology, chemistry, and math. Math was my favorite subject at the time, but I didn’t feel that a math degree could lead to many job opportunities, so I chose to pursue biomedical science.

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Using Robots and Artificial Intelligence to Search for New Medicines

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A portrait image of Dr. Gormley, wearing a white lab coat in the laboratory.
Courtesy of Dr. Adam Gormley.

Adam Gormley, Ph.D., describes himself as a creative and adventurous person—albeit, not creative in the traditional sense. “Science allows me to be creative; to me, it’s a form of art. I love being outdoors, going on sailing trips, and spending time adventuring with my family. Research is the same—it’s an adventure. My creative and adventurous sides have combined into a real love for science,” he says. Dr. Gormley currently channels his passion for science into his position as an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Learning How the World Works

Both of Dr. Gormley’s parents worked in science and medicine—his mother as a medical doctor and his father as a physician-scientist—and they instilled in him a curiosity for how the world worked. When he was young, Dr. Gormley and his parents would tinker with cars or boats and fix broken household items together, all the while talking about the individual parts and how they functioned as a whole. “I always had that technical, hands-on side of me,” he says.

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In Other Words: Media—Getting the News and Growing Cells

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The word media may make many of us think about media outlets where we get our news or social media where we keep up with friends. But to biomedical researchers, media is a nutrient-rich liquid that fuels cell cultures—groups of cells grown in a lab. Scientists grow many types of cultures in media, from bacteria to human cells. They use these cultures to learn about basic biological processes and to develop and test new medicines.

Below the title “Media: In Other Words,” two images are separated by a jagged line. On the left is a hand holding a phone using social media with thumbs up and hearts floating off the screen. On the right is a pipette dispensing media into a Petri dish and a media bottle in the background. Under the images, text reads: “Did you know? In biomedical science, media is a nutrient-rich liquid that fuels cell cultures.”
Credit: NIGMS.
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Career Conversations: Q&A With Biochemist Prabodhika Mallikaratchy

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A headshot of Dr. Mallikaratchy.
Credit: CUNY School of Medicine.

“One of the biggest things I hope for in my career is that in 20 years, I still feel the same joy and enthusiasm for research and training that I feel now,” says Prabodhika Mallikaratchy, Ph.D., a professor in the department of molecular, cellular, and biomedical sciences at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Medicine. Dr. Mallikaratchy talks with us about her career path, research on developing new immunotherapies and molecular tools using nucleic acids, and her belief in the importance of being passionate about your career.

Q: How did you first become interested in science?

A: Growing up in Sri Lanka, I was always a curious child. I remember being drawn to science and math, but there was no particular incident that sparked my interest. By the time I reached high school, though, I had become especially interested in chemistry.

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Science Snippet: The Power of Proteins

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Some might think that protein is only important for weightlifters. In truth, all life relies on the activity of protein molecules. A single human cell contains thousands of different proteins with diverse roles, including:

A dense network of blue, green, yellow, and red weblike structures along a border of a cell.
Actin proteins in a cell’s cytoskeleton. Credit: Xiaowei Zhuang, HHMI, Harvard University, and Nature Publishing Group.
  • Providing structure. Proteins such as actin make up the three-dimensional cytoskeleton that gives cells structure and determines their shapes.
  • Aiding chemical reactions. Many proteins are biological catalysts called enzymes that speed up the rate of chemical reactions by reducing the amount of energy needed for the reactions to proceed. For example, lactase is an enzyme that breaks down lactose, a sugar found in dairy products. Those with lactose intolerance don’t produce enough lactase to digest dairy.
  • Supporting communication. Some proteins act as chemical messengers between cells. For example, cytokines are the protein messengers of the immune system and can increase or decrease the intensity of an immune response.
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Career Conversations: Q&A With Polymer Chemist Frank Leibfarth

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A headshot of Dr. Leibfarth.
Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Frank Leibfarth.

“I love that you can change the molecular-level structure of a material, then pull it, bend it, or twist it and see firsthand how the molecular changes you introduced influence its stretchiness or bendiness,” says Frank Leibfarth Ph.D., an associate professor of chemistry at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. In an interview, Dr. Leibfarth shares with us his scientific journey, his use of chemistry to tackle challenges in human health and sustainability, and his beliefs on what makes a career in science exciting.

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Chemistry Under the Big Top

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The Authentic Community Engagement in Science project is dedicated to getting young students excited about STEM and its place in their communities.
Large red letters spell “ACES” above smaller text that reads “Authentic Community Engagement in Science.”
Credit: ACES.

“Our main goal is to get elementary students excited to learn about STEM, and for them to see how beautiful and relevant science can be to communities in eastern Montana,” says Amanda Obery, Ph.D., an assistant professor in elementary education at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington. Dr. Obery co-leads the Authentic Community Engagement in Science (ACES) project with Matt Queen, Ph.D., an assistant professor in biological and physical sciences at Montana State University Billings (MSUB).

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Slideshow: Circles of Life

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Every year on March 14, many people eat pie in honor of Pi Day. Mathematically speaking, pi (π) is the ratio of a circle’s circumference (the distance around the outside) to its diameter (the length from one side of the circle to the other, straight through the center). That means if you divide the circumference of any circle by its diameter, the solution will always be pi, which is roughly 3.14—hence March 14, or 3/14. But pi is an irrational number, which means that the numbers after the decimal point never end. With the help of computers, mathematicians have determined trillions of digits of pi.

To celebrate Pi Day, check out this slideshow of circular microbes, research organisms, and laboratory tools (while you enjoy your pie, of course!). To explore more scientific photos, videos, and illustrations, visit our image and video gallery.

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Launching Biomedical Careers for Students Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing

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Five people standing behind one dog and one person kneeling in front.
Group of RIT U-RISE students, including Bo Allaby (standing second from the right) and Maameyaa Asiamah (kneeling in front) who are interviewed in this post. Credit: TJ Sanger.

Scientists who are deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) are underrepresented at all career stages, especially at the Ph.D. level. To address this, the Undergraduate Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement (U-RISE) training program for undergraduates who are deaf and hard of hearing at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, New York, has committed to lifting barriers and increasing DHH representation in science.

Part of RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID),
the program is now in its fifth year and prepares undergraduate students who are DHH to enter graduate programs through community-building activities, mentored research training, communication access services like interpretation, and much more. We’ve interviewed two RIT U-RISE students and its director to learn how the program supports its trainees.

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