Women in STEM: Sarah

Sarah in the lab

Meet Sarah, my 13th guest. She is an Australian immunologist with a huge love for Harry Potter.

Hi t.cell.sarah! First of all would you like to tell us something about you?

Hi my name is Sarah and I am from Melbourne Australia, I have a masters in science (research) with a focus on immunology. Keeping my age a secret for now but if you follow me you may have seen its big one and I am having a Harry Potter themed birthday with my best friend!!! I am so excited so keep an eye out for it later in the year.

When did you start your Instagram account? How did you get the idea?

I started my account in August 2018 and I got the idea from one of my friends, Vanesa you may know her as neuroscience.ness on Instagram. I saw how much fun she was having and wanted to join in, she even helped me name my account. I love sharing my life as a scientist but also that while I love science I do have other interests and that’s OK, I also love that I can combine my hobbies with science and share them with people, I am currently running a series that combines baking and science.

Can you tell us something about how you balance work and private life? 

During my masters I didn’t really achieve work life balance, I used to spend late nights and early mornings in the lab, so once I finished my degree I decided to set work hours and I stuck to them as closely as I could. This set boundaries not just for me but also for others who worked with me, it let them know that I only worked during certain hours and that if you needed me for something to see me during those hours.

I also believe in enjoying yourself while you study, it may seem like you life is what you study but you are allowed to have other hobbies like reading, baking, hanging out with friends, gaming, basically whatever you like doing keep doing because during the hard times it will help you get through it. Don’t let your studies take over your life and remember you can have life away from your studies.

During your academic studies how many women were in course? Why in your opinion?

During my masters I was guess I was in a unique situation, two of my supervisors were women and probably due to that I was in a lab surrounded by women. Even in my bachelors degree I was surrounded by women, I am not sure if that was because my university wasn’t overly competitive, I went to a university in a lower socio-economic area, so I think this meant that they were actually quite supportive and the competitiveness that is usually associated with university just wasn’t there, everyone had there own for reasons for being there and wanted to support others. I felt like my university was quite a surreptitious environment and really wanted to help me achieve my goals.

Even during my masters I felt somewhat supported especially by those around me because we were all going through the same thing, I didn’t feel like I was being treated as someone lesser because I was a women in a male dominated field, I still don’t feel like that but even in my career I was working for a women so I guess you could say I had a unique perspective on this topic.

Have you ever felt harassed or being kept apart as a scholar because you are a woman?

As mentioned above most of my research career I have been surrounded by women and felt supported, I haven’t personally felt harassed because I was a women but I do know women who felt like they had to work harder than the men in similar positions to them to get a leg up and get the respect they deserve. While I think we are making big strides to equality we still have long way to go and I respect the people who have come before me who may have had it harder than me.

How did you became passionate about science? 

I wasn’t always passionate about science, I always had an interest in science but I wouldn’t say I was passionate. The passion came after I finished my masters and had some time away from science, I realized I missed it and then I saw Vanesa’s Instagram and I volunteered to help my lab with a science outreach day and that really showed me how much I enjoyed sharing my world with others and bringing them into it.

Would you like to talk briefly about your job?

I previously worked as a research assistant in an immunology research laboratory, I am currently looking for a new job in laboratory management or industry. Working in science really means you need to resilient because losing your job because your lab has no funding is a real possibility.  

Thank you so much for your time. Lastly, can you give any advice to girls interested in STEM?

If you want to get into science, then do it! You path might not always be as direct as you think but there are always other ways to get to your endpoint.

Check Sarah’s LinkedIn!

What is mass spectrometry?

An example of application of PTR-MS

Previously I wrote about some applications of mass spectrometry and in particular of proton transfer reaction – mass spectrometry (PTR-MS). You can read old articles here (1, 2, 3, 4). Today I want to explain in details how PTR-MS works.

PTR-MS is called a “non-targeted approach”. Non-targeted approaches are used to investigate samples when marker molecules are not known and the aim is to study the global sample fingerprint. These approaches are very useful in authenticity and traceability analysis and represent a valuable tool for food safety authorities, which aim is to establish control over food products in market circulation.

PTR-MS was developed by professor Lindinger at the Institut für Ionenphysik at the University of Innsbruck.

It measures volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released by the samples and has several advantages. Samples do not need to be prepared prior to the measurement and can be analyzed directly, avoiding sampling and storage artifacts.

Now, a practical example: we have three types of grapes (see the figure above). Producers claim they belong to the same expensive and precious variety.

Food scientists analyze the grapes with PTR-MS (step 1) are the results are compared (step 2). By looking at the graph (step 3), it is clear that the three samples are different and therefore they cannot belong to the same variety.

Food scientists just performed a food authenticity analysis and discover a food fraud. Those producers were trying to sell at a higher price low quality grapes.


Abbas et al., 2018, “Analytical methods used for the authentication of food of animal origin”, Food Chemistry, vol. 246, pp. 6-17

Cavanna et al., 2018, “The scientific challenges in moving from target to non-targeted mass spectrometric methods for food fraud analysis: a proposed validation workflow to bring about a harmonized approach”, Trends in Food Science & Technology, vol. 80, pp. 223-241

Lindinger et al., 2008, “On-line monitoring of volatile compounds at pptv levels by means of Proton-Transfer-Reaction Mass Spectrometry (PTR-MS). Medical application, food control and environmental research”, International Journal of Mass Spectrometry and Ion Processes, vol. 173, pp. 191-241

Women in STEM: prof. Karla

prof. Karla and her nanotox lab

My 12th guest is prof. Karla Oyuky Juarez-Moreno from Mexico, an Associate Research Professor at the Center of Nanosciences and Nanotechnology.

Hi @nanotox_lab! First of all would you like to tell us something about you?

My name is Karla Oyuky Juarez-Moreno I’m 40 years old and I was born in Mexico City. I studied Biology and then I got my Master’s and Ph.D. Degrees in Biotechnology in a Mexican Scientific Research Center called CICESE. When I was enrolled in the Ph.D. (2008), I got a scholarship from Germany through its alumni exchange program called DAAD. Thus, I moved to Hamburg to start working at the Institut für Immunologie at the Hospital of Hamburg University, in this place I spent almost 4 years to complete my Ph.D.. This experience was the perfect opportunity to finish the experiments for my Ph.D. thesis but also, to become familiar with so many different cultures, countries, people! I also had the chance to attend to congress, conferences and a very vast world full of very enlightening experiences. My world has changed after that!! In 2010 I got the “Award for Researcher Professor” from the Fulbright García-Robles COMEXUS, USA; to do my Postdoc at the Pharmacology Department from North Carolina University at Chapel Hill (NC, USA). Once again, I got not only the expertise but also I learned about resilience and how to become part of a new culture and country! I experienced another point of view on how to achieve my scientific goals and becoming a scientist, my P.I. was extremely prolific in writing papers and grants and I felt inspired by her empowered position and passion for science!. Then, in 2012, I moved back to the North of Mexico, near the Pacific Ocean in a small but very beautiful city called Ensenada, in Baja California. There I started my second postdoc at the Center of Nanosciences and Nanotechnology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Finally, in 2014 I got an Associate Research Professor position at the Center of Nanosciences and Nanotechnology and since then I’m working at the Bionanotechnology Department studying the cellular and molecular responses to different types of nanomaterials, my expertise field is in Nanotoxicology.

When did you start your Instagram account? How did you get the idea?

I started @nanotox_lab in August 2019. One of my Graduate students encouraged me to open it with the idea to let the students know what are we doing and receive other students from abroad. I must confess that at the beginning I refused the idea because I ignored how to use social media for academic purposes! I thought it will demand too much of my time and it will be a waste of it, and as a young associate professor, I do not have too much! But surprisingly, after some weeks I realized the importance of social media and how effective they are!! Because many students are using Facebook and Instagram as the main communication media!
Then I realized that @nanotox_lab could become a better idea, not only to show others what we are doing in the Nanotoxicology field but also to place ourselves as a worldwide reference regarding Nanotoxicology and Bionanotechnology. Then I decided that through my account I will encourage the inclusion of minorities in science and academic world.
That’s the main reason of why I’m using my lab’s account not only for science
communication but also as an inspirational tool for young scientist and women whose want to pursue a scientific career but are afraid of how difficult this could be. I have a motto and it is that “we at @nanotox_lab are the human part of science”.
@nanotox_lab deals with different sections that among others are: women in science, daily life at the lab, lab hacks and advice, scientific motivational quotes, featuring our students and colleagues and tips to have a lab book updated, among other.

Can you tell us something about how you balance work and private life?

I consider that having a balance between personal and professional life is extremely
important but also not an easy task. Science and academia could be very demanding, especially for those young researchers that are pursuing a stable position and leadership on the field. However, at the end of the day, it is necessary and extremely important to give the correct place to all the areas in our lives.
Family and loved ones (this will include relatives, partners, children, friends and even
pets!) are the key to having a complete life. After all, we are not just a number of
publications, endorsements, and funding! Of course, we as scientists need to have all of them, but family comes first! They are the only persons that remain beside us when the health has gone, they wake-up every morning and know us better than no one! They also suffered together with us whenever something awful happens at the lab. Thus, having a secure network of persons that love you is essential. To achieve this one must dedicate quality time to them. So, how I organize myself to aim this? Pff! As much as I can! It is extremely difficult, but not impossible. Thus, I decided that weekends are for my family. If I need to work on something I do it at the end of the day, at night (like this interview for example). Also after work, every single day I have a date with my husband, we go to get a coffee, to the movies (we also have scheduled a day for it), or simply we walked around with our pets. By doing this after work reset my mind!
I also have some hobbies like gardening and walks, this help me to get different
inspiration from nature and become also more sensitive to the life that surrounds me!

During your academic studies how many women were in course? Why in
your opinion?

During my undergrad and grad studies, there were many women enrolled. However, as I went further along with the studies the number of women in science were decreasing.
Mostly because some of them got pregnant and started their families. They declined the scientific opportunities to continue with their scientific education because this will imply more responsibilities and they preferred to raise their children and let the husbands develop themselves in a scientific career.
I must clarify that my perspective came from a point of view from a scientist established in Mexico. Here our policies are very different from Europe. Where there is some equality between parents’ rights for children’s education. Maybe for some persons from Europe having a one year-paternity/maternity absence permission from work is normal and is their right, but in Mexico, only women have this permission and is restrictive for only 42 days after day birth.
Under my experience, this is the main reason for the decreasing numbers of women in science. Also, there are other stigmas regarding women, especially those from misogyny opinions, and are more related to our capacity to become leaders because our decisions are more driven-by hormones than by rationality. This is not true, of course, but during my studies, I have heard this so many times!! and of course many women colleagues have quit from this path due to this stigma.

Have you ever felt harassed or being kept apart as a scholar because you are a woman?

Unfortunately yes. That happened to me many times. And I must confess that I’m a
woman with a very strong character, and despite this, it happened!! Harassed is not
restrictive and happens even in those sectors that we considered very well educated. The harassment is more related to the fear felt by the victims of being judged by others. Of course to break the silence and speak out loud is not easy, not at all! And sometimes when we decided to do it, we are very alone during the process. Like many other victims of harassment, there is always a deep feeling of guilt, we questioning ourselves if we would do anything different to avoid it or about the reasons for being a victim of it, the guilty is a common denominator, but there is not such a waste of time and energy doing that!! We are not the problem!! The problem is the lack of self-esteem of the stalker and also a lack of empathy from the whole community, together with the lack of correct policies to report and denounce those behaviors.

How did you became passionate about science?

Since I was a child I have this character of questioning everything but not only making questions but, trying to solve them. I didn’t want to become a scientist, in fact, I was a very prolific athlete but suddenly an accident stopped my sport-career and I couldn’t do any sport! I refugee myself in science, my sister was studying veterinary and then I started to feel passionate about medical issues. I was in high school when my Biology teacher decided that I was going to help her to organize the lab practices and then my love for labs and science started! At the end of the High School, I got a scholarship and I traveled to the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot Israel, to do a summer science camp! That experience motivated me to continue and become a scientist, Over there I met a Mexican/Israel scientist and she took me to the lab and show me her research! She was so inspirational!. When I come back to Mexico, I decided to enroll in Biology Faculty and since then I had have the fortune to be thought by many excellent professors, teacher, and students that shared with me the passion and importance of doing science in a very passionate way.

Would you like to talk briefly about your job?

We work with Nanotoxicological Evaluations our task is dedicated to the implementation of Cellular and Molecular Biology techniques for the investigation of the toxicity of nanomaterials in different models of mammalian cells grown in vitro. Our goal is to understand the responses of cells subjected to acute and chronic exposures of different nanomaterials and correlate these effects with the physicochemical properties of each nanomaterial.
In the laboratory, the effect caused by nanomaterials on different cellular responses, such as viability, proliferation, migration and cell differentiation, is evaluated. So we have adapted conventional techniques of toxicology for the study of nanomaterials, using different types of cancer cells and non-cancer cells, to perform a large number of in vitro tests with the aim of determining biocompatibility, hemocompatibility, genotoxic effect, and anti/pro-inflammatory nanomaterials, particularly those with potential biomedical and biotechnological applications.
In addition, we implemented the comparison of the toxicological effect of nanomaterials on cell responses of cultures with three-dimensional arrays (spheroids) and their comparison with conventionally grown cells in two dimensions.
We are a research laboratory in Nanotoxicology that contributes to the academic and
industrial sectors providing specialized services to determine the biosecurity of different nanomaterials with potential applications in industry and medicine.

Thank you so much for your time. Lastly, can you give any advice to girls interested in STEM?

My advice to girls in STEM/STEAM is that do not lose the focus of your goals and keep the strength to conquer them. Do not allow anyone to tell you are not capable of doing what you aim! The path to obtaining them is not easy, but once you achieve one of them the feeling of empowered and gratifying is more than worth. I also motivate my students to work as a team, to motivate that women must support each other and be comprehensive, that every one of us has her own agenda. What makes you feel happy, would not be the same for another girl. I also have an advice for everyone who is reading this, do not demand what you are not able to give. In this sense, please do not step over others to achieve your goals, feel empathy and become a nice human. Be the human part of science.

Be the change you want to see in the world!

Besides Instagram, you can find prof. Karla on ResearchGate, Google Scholar, Facebook and on her lab’s website.

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