Think all scientists wear white coats? Think again! From the lab to the field and from overalls to scuba gear, these real life scientists embrace their curiosity every day as they study our world.
Read on to discover what they study, the tools they use, and their interests outside of their jobs in science. You might might even find that you share things in common!
Rachael E. Bonoan
How do insect pollinators get a balanced diet?
Insect pollinators get most of their nutrients from flowers: pollen provides protein and fats, and nectar provides sugar. I study how insect pollinators are able to find the right nutrients in the right amounts, even when there aren’t a lot of flowers to choose from.
I cannot do my science without a butterfly net: in order to study butterflies (which are insect pollinators), I need to catch them first!
Outside of science, I enjoy hiking and baking (especially brownies).
Can social robots strengthen our connections?
I study the interaction between humans and robots. I investigate how we can design and create social robots that honor human relationships and if such robots can be used to deepen connections between people and the world, and within ourselves.
I cannot do my science without humans and robots!
Outside of science, I enjoy dancing classic ballet and swimming in the ocean.
Food Spoilage Microbiologist
How do microbes and molds grow on food?
I study microbes that live in or on food. Some are good, like the fungi and bacteria in sourdough bread or blue cheese, but others are bad and cause food to rot.
I cannot do my science without Petri dishes: they allow me to grow mold and bacteria in controlled environments in the lab.
Outside of science, I enjoy reading and knitting.
Photo: Alonso Nichols, Tufts University
How can we help people live healthier, longer lives after an organ transplant?
I study how we can test for kidney rejection after transplant in order to help doctors diagnose and treat rejection earlier. My goal is to personalize medication so that each transplant recipient can live with their new organ for as long as possible.
I cannot do my science without a computer: I use it every day to collect and analyze data.
Outside of science, I enjoy dancing and cooking.
How do changes baby fish experience during development affect how they swim and feed, and influence where they live?
I study where you find baby fishes in the marine environment. I also study their anatomy to see how different structures change as they develop from egg to larva to young adult.
I cannot do my science without a microscope: tiny baby fish are too small to see without one!
Outside of science, I enjoy going to the movies and playing video games.
How does the environment affect animals living in streams and in turn, how do these animals affect their environment?
I study how the environment affects traits, such as size and behavior, of animals that live in streams. I also study how those animals affect their environment by changing what other organisms live in that stream.
I cannot do my science without a small net: crayfish, one of the animals I study, are really hard (and sometimes painful) to catch by hand.
Outside of science, I enjoy playing piano and board games.
Medical Scientist (in training)
How can we help people learn more about their health so that they can take better care of themselves?
I am interested in how certain diseases are different for people with different backgrounds. I want to know how doctors can better care for patients that are very different from one another.
I cannot do my science without a whiteboard and colorful markers: much of being a doctor is teaching, and I think that the best way to teach is to use pictures.
Outside of science, I enjoy improv comedy and hiking.
Computer Science Lecturer
How can we get more kids interested in computer science?
I teach college students computer science, and I work to bring more computer science into K-12. I especially love empowering girls to learn computer science!
I cannot do my science without a computer: it is the tool I use to express my thoughts and ideas.
Outside of science, I enjoy reading and writing.
Cassandra M. Donatelli
Why do fish come in so many different shapes and sizes?
I study how fish move around. I am interested in looking at fishes of all different shapes and seeing how they move differently.
I cannot do my science without boots: without them my feet would get way too cold while catching fish from the ocean.
Outside of science, I enjoy playing board games and video games, and hiking.
How long do solitary bees hibernate?
I study ground-nesting solitary bees, meaning each female builds her own nest underground. I want to know how long her offspring hibernate: for just one year or longer?
I cannot do my science without a shovel: in order to study bees inside their nest, I have to be able to (carefully) dig it up.
Outside of science, I enjoy cooking and photography.
How do plants and insects survive?
I study how plants defend themselves from insects that eat their leaves, and how plants and animals know when its time to hatch/germinate, come out of hibernation, or migrate.
I cannot do my science without a computer: most of my work uses field-collected data to run statistical analyses or computer simulations.
Outside of science, I enjoy practicing martial arts and blacksmithing.
How do proteins interact with each other?
I study how certain molecules, called inhibitors, can slow down or stop interactions between proteins. To do this, I synthesize and experimentally test inhibitors in the lab.
I cannot do my science without a computer: In addition to chemistry, I do a lot of computer simulations to study these interactions.
Outside of science, I enjoy riding my motorcycling and spending time with my one-year-old.
How we can make farms more resilient to climate change and disasters?
I work with Costa Rican coffee farmers to understand why coffee plants produce lots of fruits in one year but few fruits the following year (yep, coffee comes from bright red fruits!). If farmers can help the coffee plants produce steadily, then they’ll be better prepared for any unexpected challenges, such as climate change.
I cannot do my science without a handheld GPS: it helps me find the hundreds of coffee plants that I track and measure.
Outside of science, I enjoy playing ukulele and painting nature scenes.
How does communication between the cells in your body change when you’re sick?
Think of the cells that make up your body like a seed; the soil around it can either help that seed grow just enough (into a healthy plant), too much (into an uncontrollable plant), or not at all. I’m studying this “soil”, or the environment around the cell, to understand what instructions it gives to make the plant grow too much or not at all.
I cannot do my science without an incubator: this is a special device that keeps the cells I work with at a good temperature to live, otherwise I wouldn’t have any cells to work with!
Outside of science, I enjoy drawing comics and playing sports (especially running, volleyball, and ultimate Frisbee).
How do we make renewable energy from the ocean?
I study how marine animals, like whales and seals, and their environment might be impacted by new stuff in the ocean. If we want to make renewable energy from the ocean, can we also make it safe for the animals that live there?
I cannot do my science without a material testing machine: to understand how whales might be injured by what we put in the ocean, this machine tests how squishy and stretchy their skin and blubber is.
Outside of science, I enjoy knitting action figures and riding my bicycle.
How many species of worms live in the ocean and what can they tell us about the environment?
The type of worms I study, called polychaetes, are important players in the marine environment. I work to understand natural and human-related changes in the ocean by identifying worms, tracking their global distribution, and comparing this information to environmental conditions.
I cannot do my science without a microscope: many of the worm body parts I need to see to identify a species are teeny tiny.
Outside of science, I enjoy growing carnivorous plants, travelling, and binge reading.
How do microbes and chemicals interact?
Microbes are everywhere, and we are constantly using chemicals to try to get rid of them, but it doesn’t always work out the way we plan! I study what happens to the microbes, and how they behave and survive, to try to find better ways of using chemicals.
I cannot do my science without Petri dishes: we have lots of fancy molecular methods to study microbes (and I use them often), but at the end of the day, we still use the same methods from 100 years ago to grow microbes.
Outside of science, I enjoy cooking and of course, eating!
How can we help monarch butterfly populations in the Midwestern U.S.?
I study how chemicals, specifically insecticides, affect monarch butterflies and the food they eat (plants/flowers!). This can help determine where to plant flowers so monarchs have the best food possible.
I cannot do my science without insecticides and monarchs: it’s hard to gather the data I want without my study system.
Outside of science, I enjoy writing and being outdoors.
How can we stabilize peptides so they can be used to treat heart diseases?
Peptides are sequences of amino acids that can act as signaling molecules in the body. I study how to enhance the activity and stability of certain peptides so they can be used as medications.
I cannot do my science without high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC): this machine allows me to create the pure compounds needed for biological studies and drug development.
Outside of science, I enjoy practicing yoga and playing piano.
Photo: Alonso Nichols, Tufts University
Anne A. Madden
How can we use our understanding of nature to find tiny creatures (microbes) that can help make the world better?
I study microbes in insects and other environments. I discover new microbes that can help us make better tasting food, more environmentally-friendly tools, and life-saving medications.
I cannot do my science without Petri dishes: these small plastic dishes allow me to create a habitat where microbes can grow in the lab.
Outside of science, I enjoy ocean kayaking and motorcycling.
How can we help corals survive future ocean warming?
I study how tiny algae and bacteria that live inside corals help the corals grow and stay healthy. I’m interested in what happens to the algae and bacteria as the ocean warms, and how we can help corals survive when it does.
I cannot do my science without a SCUBA mask: this allows me to see underwater while I’m checking on my experiments on the reef.
Outside of science, I enjoy painting with watercolors and storytelling.
Why do people misunderstand each other?
I study when and how people tell each other they don’t understand (for example, “What did you say?”). I find patterns of problems, like how it’s hard to listen to someone if they interrupt you!
I cannot do my science without transcription tools: in order to analyze how people talk, I need to write it all down first.
Outside of science, I enjoy weightlifting and playing video games.
Is there life in other places in the universe?
I study the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn (such as Europa and Enceladus) and if life could be present there. I also study whether bacteria can survive in extreme environments like Mars and what that would mean for searching for life outside of earth.
I cannot do my science without CAD software: this allows me to design and test prototype instrumentation for space flights.
Outside of science, I enjoy rock climbing and gardening.
Luke D. O’Connor
How do living things that begin as a single cell grow to build complex creatures, like you and me?
I study how tendons, a tissue that connects muscle to bone, forms and changes after mice are born. I also study how tendons respond to exercise, like running.
I cannot do my science without pipettes: these help me measure and add the correct amount of chemicals to my experiments.
Outside of science, I enjoy running and crocheting.
Avalon C.S. Owens (far left)
How does light pollution affect wild animals?
Fireflies use flashes of light to talk to each other, and our lights can make it hard for them to see what the other fireflies are saying! I’m trying to find a kind of artificial light that doesn’t bother them so much.
I cannot do my science without a headlamp: to study fireflies, I have to work outside at night!
Outside of science, I enjoy playing video games, and making YouTube videos.
Native bee scientist
How can we save native bees?
I study what influences native bee abundance and diversity in urban areas. This involves looking at what habitat types are best for native bees, what flowers they prefer to visit, and the impact of introduced species (such as exotic plants and the introduced European honey bee) on native bees.
I cannot do my science without a sweep net: when surveying bee diversity, you simply can’t do without a sweep net!
Outside of science, I enjoy doing gymnastics and jogging with my dog, Zephyr, by the river.
How do kids think about other people?
I study whether kids think that people are different from each other because of differences in people’s bodies and brains, OR because of differences in people’s experiences and situations. I am interested in learning how can kids (and grown-ups!) can learn about how experience is an important part of shaping who you are.
I cannot do my science without kids: I need to ask them questions and listen to their smart ideas.
Outside of science, I enjoy drawing, singing, and playing with my cat.
Charles B. van Rees
How does our need for fresh water affect the natural world?
I study how endangered fish and waterbirds are being put at risk by our management of rivers, streams, wetlands, lakes and ponds. I try to find ways to protect freshwater nature while protecting our water resources.
I cannot do my science without hiking boots!
Outside of science, I enjoy playing ukulele and practicing mixed martial arts.
Alex Schilling & Dipna Patel
Surface Scientist & Vacuum Scientist
How can we make better catalysts?
Catalysts are chemicals that can make a chemical reaction easier or more difficult. We study how different metals act as catalysts by picking combinations of metals that are specially designed to perform target reactions, and then observing the reaction.
We cannot do our science without a scanning tunneling microscope: this microscope lets us look at individual atoms to see how they interact with other molecules.
Outside of science, Alex enjoys playing soccer and video games, and Dipna enjoys practicing yoga.
Marlen Tagle Rodriguez
How can we ensure that the design and function of a medical device addresses the needs of both the patient and the physician?
I work at a biomedical device company that specializes in artificial heart valves and monitoring blood flow. I serve as a bridge between engineering and clinical affairs that helps improve design and development of new products by providing clinical input for engineering plans and product expertise to physicians and hospital personnel.
I cannot do my science without critical thinking skills: they are essential in understanding, analyzing and communicating clinical and engineering data.
Outside of science, I enjoy running and swimming.
Coral Reef Ecologist
How do fish help keep coral reefs healthy?
I study plant-eating fishes in the Red Sea, how these fish share food, and how they can indirectly help corals by eating algae.
I cannot do my science without a mask and snorkel: otherwise, I would not be able to see and collect fish in the ocean.
Outside of science, I enjoy reading and playing Dungeons and Dragons.
What do jellyfish in the open ocean eat?
I study what is in a jellyfish’s gut, or “stomach,” to find out what it has been eating. I also study how jellyfish swim without wasting energy.
I cannot do my science without SCUBA gear: this allows me to and film jelly fish behavior in their natural habitat.
Outside of science, I enjoy cooking and playing video games.
How does memory change while we’re asleep?
I study how our memories change during sleep. Specifically, why some memories lose detail and become more generalized while others maintain even the tiniest of details.
I cannot do my science without electroencephalography (EEG): this tool allows me to monitor when a person is asleep and what type of sleep they’re in (deep sleep, light sleep, or REM sleep).
Outside of science, I enjoy cycling around the city, visiting local parks, and trying new recipes with ingredients from local farmers.
Why isn’t this animal feeling well?
I study what makes animals sick and how to make them feel better.
I cannot do my science without a microscope: this allows me to look at and identify tiny germs that make animals sick.
Outside of science, I enjoy traveling and gardening.