Physicist of the Future

Women in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are few and far between; as of a 2011 survey, the United States Department of Commerce found that while women fill half of the jobs in the U.S. economy, they tend to hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. But one Alabama scientist is drawing attention to the field and making a name for herself in the process.

Meet Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green — one of less than 100 black female physicists in the United States, according to The New York Times’ Women in the World.” Green earned a degree in physics from Alabama A&M University, and upon graduation, she received a full scholarship to the University of Alabama in Birmingham to pursue her Master’s and Ph.D. There, she became the first to deliver nanoparticles exclusively to cancer cells, thus allowing them to be specifically targeted by lasers for removal, and she successfully carried out this treatment on living animals.

As points out, Green’s determination to treat cancer stems from her personal history with the disease. After her parents’ deaths early in her life, Green spent the rest of her childhood in St. Louis with her uncle General Lee Smith and her aunt Ora Lee.

But when Ora Lee was diagnosed with cancer, she refused treatment, said Green. “It was heartbreaking, but I could appreciate she wanted to die on her own terms,” she said.

Three months later, Green’s uncle was diagnosed with cancer, and she took time off from school to help him through chemotherapy and radiation treatments, witnessing firsthand the devastation such intensive treatments wreaks on a patient’s body.

But today, Green has not only pioneered a laser-activated treatment that could change the way cancer is treated, she is also the recipient of a $1.1 million grant to further the develop the technology.

Although her responsibility is growing, Women in the World explains that Green makes it a point to speak at schools, Boys & Girls clubs and other events. “Usually if there is an invitation to speak at a forum like that, I accept it because I feel like it’s a responsibility,” she said of accepting guest speaking requests. “There are so few of us (black women in STEM fields) I don’t feel like I have the luxury to say I’m too busy.”

Green also saix that she usually accepts such speaking requests to provide young women other role models to encourage studies in the STEM fields. “Young black girls don’t see those role models (scientists) as often as they see Beyonce or Nicki Minaj,” said Green. “It’s important to know that our brains are capable of more.”

Thank you, Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green, for showing us that we are, in fact, capable of more.

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