INNOVATOR: Samantha Marquez, pioneering teen scientist

Samantha Marquez has seven patents under her belt- and she’s just 17 years old. The Richmond, Virginia teen is the creator of a new technology that organizes cells in a new structure called the Celloidosome. The applications of her invention can range from tissue regeneration to the regeneration of whole organs like the liver or pancreas. The most recent potential application of her work is using the Celloidosome as an artificial organism that can track radioactive heavy metals- and help clean up nuclear disasters. Marquez’s journey began when she was eleven years old working on a project for her 7th grade science class and found ways to improve upon a Harvard published research paper. Since then, Marquez has won many awards for her work, including the top prize at the 2012 Intel Science and Engineering Fair, first place at the International Space Olympics in Russia, and the 2013 Neuroscience Research Prize at the National American Academy of Neurology Conference. The young scientist also spends her time advocating for more Hispanics and young women to go into STEM fields.

HERITAGE: My mother’s family is from Venezuela though they also have roots in Lebanon and France. My father’s side is from Spain and Portugal.

BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED: It was from my parents- to keep my mind open.  The other way of saying it is to not be afraid of not knowing. Because I started out so early in the science field, I would walk into the lab and have no idea what is going on and what my mentors were talking about. I was eleven years old, but by not letting myself get intimidated I learned so much more and got to really experience the beauty of it all.

WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO: My parents tell me all the time nadie te quita lo vivido. Nobody takes away from you what you have already lived. It doesn’t matter where you end up, knowledge is something you will always have.

BEST DAY ON THE JOB: A couple of years back I gave a lecture for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. At first I wasn’t sure who exactly I was talking to but it ended up being more than 300 or 400 high school students. I focused my talk on not just the science part but about being a Hispanic high school student in science and about my journey. Afterwards I ended up meeting several of the students and one of them came up to me and said “you really inspired me. I never thought I was interested in science but now I realize I might have a chance at a career in it.” Two years later at the 2013 international science and engineering fair that student was there participating in the fair. It touched me that I was able to make a difference. It wasn’t just me that inspired them- I also got inspired by being there.

WORST DAY ON THE JOB: Anything that has to do with the patenting process. It’s so tedious and time consuming. It’s the claims especially- being able to write them specific enough that they’ll accept them.

Samantha Marquez in the lab (Photo/courtesy Manuel Marquez)

Samantha Marquez in the lab (Photo/courtesy Manuel Marquez)

FIRST PAYING JOB: My first job was teaching middle schoolers how to waltz and do classical dance at a local middle school cotillion event. I used to participate there and I love to dance. I was so excited to get minimum wage.

ONE THING PEOPLE WHO KNOW YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU: People don’t usually know that I love magic. My dad when he was younger studied magic a while, I guess it ended up sticking and I started learning a little bit. It’s one of my nerdier qualities.

LAST TIME YOU DID SOMETHING FOR THE FIRST TIME: A couple of years back we went to Mexico and swam with whale sharks. It was just the most peaceful and gratifying experience because I was able to absorb the beauty of nature. It’s wonderful because it’s not dangerous since whale sharks don’t eat meat.

PERSON YOU MOST ADMIRE: I really admire my older sister. She lives with a free spirit and she’s not afraid of anything. She loves art and science and is able to explore everything with fearlessness. In science, I really admire Rosalind Franklin, she was such a strong and independent woman. In politics, the women I admire are Hillary Clinton, Loretta Sanchez, and Susana Martinez. Loretta Sanchez and Susana Martinez really are the inspiration that young Hispanic women have right now. If we’re talking about Hispanics in science, we represent less than one percent of the driving force of technology and science right now. There’s talent in every single field- politics, science, literature- its just about harnessing it. It’s a necessity not a luxury, for young Hispanics- boys and girls- to identify their Hillary Clintons and Rosalind Franklins.

ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’D GIVE TO SOMEONE COMING UP BEHIND YOU: It’s really important to be proud of where you come from. When you remember where you come from, you’re able to share these experiences with others and able to inspire others in the future by what you’ve been able to do. I always say that the identity of a person should not be defined by their past. You aren’t defined by race, how much money you have, or what kind of school you go to. Identity is defined by what you do.

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