Bradley J Fikes, 3/23/2017
Science is a fascinating career, opportunities in it for women are increasing and the world depends on the contributions of female scientists, she said.
And Blackburn, president of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, pointed to examples of this work from scientists on the Salk campus. Clodagh O’Shea uses viruses to fight cancer. Corina Antal led a study that explained why certain drugs intended to fight cancer actually make the disease worse.
“Science is knowledge,” Blackburn said, quoting O’Shea. “Knowledge improves the human condition. In the purest sense, it’s a celebration of life.”
“STAY CURIOUS! SCIENCE NEEDS YOU!” read the last slide of Blackburn’s pep talk.
Students not only heard from Blackburn, but also from a panel of six female scientists who told of their own challenges and successes. The speakers were two Salk researchers and scientists at the San Diego Zoo & Wildlife Park and DNA-sequencing giant Illumina.
What brought everyone together was the second annual “Women in Biotech” event, presented at the Salk Institute as part of the STEAM (Science, Technology Engineering, Arts and Math) Leadership Series. The audience consisted of the 300 students from six high schools in the San Diego Unified School District.
The series is supported by the school district, the San Diego Foundation, Intellectual Capital and others. Its next event is scheduled for June 1 on the USS Midway Museum in downtown San Diego, said Steve Chapple, an organizer of the series.
Blackburn shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her role in discovering telomerase, an enzyme that repairs telomeres, the protective ends of chromosomes.
Driven by her innate curiosity about how life works, Blackburn studied a single-celled organism that has numerous telomeres, leading to the discovery of telomerase. As it turned out, this enzyme is used widely in life, including in humans. Telomere dysfunctions are involved in both aging and cancer, which has made the field a hot subject of study.
“Bringing young women and diverse people into science is absolutely critical,” Blackburn said before the talk, underscoring the importance their achievements can make. “Science needs all the brains that can be brought into it. And the more we attract people from every way of thinking, the better it is for science.”
Blackburn said she got considerable support when she was starting out at an all-girls’ school. But once she entered college, she had to look for mentors and make her own path. While all scientists have to formulate career choices, it’s easier if they know starting out what the possibilities are.
In addition, Blackburn said it’s vital to keep people excited about science over the long term.
Megan Moreau, an 11th grader from Clairemont High School, belongs to that school’s health and medical academy — reflecting an interest she’s had since being a freshman. She heard of STEAM from a teacher, and on Thursday, she was looking to get examples from the speakers of how they have forged scientific careers as women.
Karen Ngo, a senior at Mira Mesa High School, said she became acquainted with STEAM through her own volunteer work at elementary schools.
“Hopefully, I’ll get a little insight into what it’s like to be in biotechnology, especially since I’m a biology major,” Ngo said.