Meet Three Women Breaking New Ground in Research
Sponsored Across all fields, women are an increasingly vital force in the research community. Discover three scientific pioneers whose work is creating the future.
Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, who leads the University of Pittsburgh, recognizes that to pursue “society’s boldest ideas, biggest questions and greatest challenges,” scientists and scholars must be “given the right resources, the right opportunities and the right support system to succeed.”
Pitt has carved out a reputation as a world leader in research through just such an investment. Meet women across disparate fields, from marketing research and materials science to biomedicine, whom Gallagher says “fit within a much larger story unfolding every day on our university grounds — the power of researchers to change the world for the better.”
Cait Lamberton, M.B.A., Ph.D., Associate Professor and Ben L. Fryrear Chair of Marketing at the University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business
Lamberton describes a research career as an “unfolding discovery process.” “When you go to a research school,” she says, “you bring your own spark of curiosity with you. Find a place where that spark is fed.”
In her extensive research on consumer behavior, Lamberton’s spark leads her in different directions, from tackling issues of food waste and ethical decision making to evaluating government employee benefit programs. What ties this work together, says Lamberton, is “the attitude that creativity and innovation should have a direct impact on the communities in which we live.”
“Being at this particular university,” she offers, “we have the opportunity to engage — not just in the business school, but in the city, state and country as a whole.” Central to this research environment, says Lamberton, is an “entrepreneurial spirit that allows you to try and sometimes to fail. That’s how it works, and that lends itself to better science.”
Anna Balazs, Ph.D., the John A. Swanson Chair in Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering and Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering
With her team of researchers, award-winning materials scientist Balazs is “trying to blur the lines between living and nonliving” in a field called biomimicry. By asking “can you take a synthetic material and make it behave like a life-like object,” she's exploring how synthetic gels can be stimulated to move by their own chemical energy — creating shape-shifting materials that could be used in robotics, for instance.
At Pitt, she says, "there's this lovely notion that you can pursue what you truly excel at,” and she encourages young women to jump into research as early as possible. Balazs always integrates freshmen into her research. “There’s so much joy in interacting with undergraduates,” she shares. “They’re incredibly enthusiastic, and that feeds your enthusiasm. It’s a wonderful cycle of interaction.”
Collaboration, she adds, is essential. “Asking friends and colleagues for help reinforces the idea that we’re all lost in efforts to move forward and that we need each other to succeed.”
Kara A. Bernstein, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
“It's an exciting time to be a molecular geneticist,” says Bernstein. In her lab at the university’s cancer institute, she and fellow researchers are working on “a personalized approach to cancer.” By studying the genetics of tumors, they seek to better understand why some women are more likely to develop breast and ovarian cancers. The goal is new, individualized cancer treatments that give “the right drug to the right patient at the right time.”
“It's important for young women to see successful female scientists in a lab,” Bernstein stresses, adding that she loves having undergraduate researchers in her lab. “Science is very much driven by the idea that the current generation teaches the next generation,” she says. “I teach them everything I know, and, if I do my job right, they'll go into the world and use those skills to make the next ground-breaking discovery.”
Photos: Ric Evans and Tom M. Johnson