Lifetime Achievement Award

EOY

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

Lydia Villa-Komaroff

Photo by Matt Graves

World-renowned Biologist Blazes New Trails
With Her Talent and Passion for Science and Education

When Lydia Villa-Komaroff was nine years old, she knew she wanted to be a scientist. What she didn´t know was that she was destined to become one of the most influential role models in the U.S. Hispanic community. Ms. Villa-Komaroff, who was only the third Mexican American woman to gain a Ph.D. in science from an American university, has blazed a wide trail for Hispanics and females, who seek careers in science.

Growing in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the eldest of six children, she developed teamwork and consensus-building skills out of necessity. But, her love of science grew out of a pure passion. She began her pursuit of a scientific degree at the University of Washington in Seattle, and Goucher College in Maryland before gaining her post-graduate degree at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. There she worked under Nobel Laureate, David Baltimore.

Rising ever higher, she spent the following three years of postdoctoral training at Harvard University, focusing on recombinant DNA technology.

For the next several years, she spent long hours, often alone, in the labs, working on medical research and gene splicing. The going was slow and filled with failures. Like all great scientists, she persevered through the tough times and made a breakthrough that captured the attention of the entire medical world when she showed how bacteria could be persuaded to make insulin. For the first time, we learned how a human hormone can be synthesized in bacteria.

Ms. Villa-Komaroff ultimately left academia to join the business sector. She is currently CEO of Cytonome, a biotechnology company building the first optical human cell sorter for therapeutic use.

Today, she is considered one of the finest scientists in the world. Students listen to her because when it comes to science, she projects authority. She was recently selected as the 2008 National Hispanic Scientist of the Year by The Museum of Science & Industry.

Ms. Villa-Komaroff is optimistic about the future. "More Hispanics students are expressing an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics," she said. As more women and minorities get into the field, things will only get better."