1. What questions drive you? Why are these important and how does science help you answer them?
I am driven by the desire to use the lens of physics to solve challenges in biology. I develop new laser-based nanotechnologies to cure blood diseases like HIV. My work is inspiring because most blood diseases are currently incurable, and this research presents an opportunity to develop new cures to save lives. I collaborate with scientists and engineers from different disciplines to solve our biggest challenges in healthcare, and it makes me hopeful about the future.
2. What has surprised you the most since becoming a scientist? What common misconceptions are still out there?
Physics was always a challenge in school, but my commitment got me through the rough times. It’s hard to appreciate just how many endless hours and rounds of failure it takes to do good science until you work in a lab. I’ve done experiments dozens of times before I saw a glimmer of data. The good thing is that I have learned to love the process of doing science where you try something, and keep making changes until you get it to work the way you want it to. When I have epic fails, I dust off and move on to the next thing. People expect scientists to be naturally-born geniuses, but most scientists are just born out of sheer dedication.
3. What do you like to do outside of science? Have any of your broader experiences shaped you as a researcher?
I love spending time with my partner, family, and friends. I also enjoy concerts (Stromae is amazing!) and painting. I’m super passionate about education. I spent my high school years in the middle of a civil war in Sri Lanka where I volunteered at a girls’ orphanage as an English teacher. My girls taught me the importance of dedication, gratitude and humility, virtues that I practice every single day in my research.
4. Why do you think it’s important for scientists to share their work with the public? What role do you think science does or should play in broader society?
First and foremost, I get to have my dream job thanks to tax payer dollars, so I think it’s my responsibility to explain my research to the public. Science should be a part of all of our lives in some shape or form, and I am committed to doing my part in connecting science to the public.
5. What advice would you give young students who are interested in science?
I think it’s very important to be true to yourself and listen to your inner voice. If you’re curious about science, just try it out! There are so many types of scientists out there today, data scientists, music technologists, or environmental designers, so chances are you’ll find something that you like. The other important thing to do is to find mentors who can guide you in your scientific journey, and there are valuable mentoring programs for all age groups. Oh ya, and don’t EVER give up because someone doubted you.