Skip navigation
1 2 Previous Next

WCC Newsletter

23 Posts authored by: Maya Nilkant
Maya Nilkant

Barbie Takes on STEM

Posted by Maya Nilkant Jun 6, 2017

By Hawthorne R. Ripley & Rebecca A. Horwitz


     A small label on the front of Mattel’s Barbie STEM kit box reads, “You Can Be Anything.” Toys have the power to influence how children perceive their potential and form goals, and STEM kits, specifically, could even inspire or encourage future career paths. For this reason, the new Mattel product raises questions about the progress made in the representation of women in STEM fields, and whether this toy is actually constructive in the hands of young girls. The classic blonde doll comes equipped with a lab coat and safety goggles, but her hair is loose and she's wearing a mini skirt and high heels. She also comes with ready‐made supplies to put together a motorized closet rack, jewelry holder, and a washing machine using “engineering,” and to design colorful dresses with “chromatography.” The question arises: is this truly a step forward, and is Mattel’s “professional women” initiative really sending a message of equality?

     At the Packer Collegiate Institute, a small private school in New York City, many girls in the community feel that women in STEM fields are underrepresented. We started the Women in STEM club earlier this year, with the objective of strategizing on how to tackle the unique challenges girls interested in STEM professions face. The Mattel STEM kit has sparked discussion in our club, and many members agree that this toy is not progress.

     As young women who have grown up interested in STEM, we want future generations of girls to be given the same sort of science kits as boys and believe that Mattel’s portrayal of the female scientist is both diminishing and discouraging. Some of our club members said that, on the positive side, Mattel’s Barbie design might attract little girls with interest in dolls to STEM fields, but most believed that blunt stereotyping discounted any possible positive value; the “STEM projects” in the kit are essentially household duties, expressing a 1950’s ideology of a woman’s full potential. It is unsettling that one of the most influential toy companies continues to cling to these ideals. To us, it seems like a strategy to reroute any female interest in technical subjects back into housework and fashion, sending a message of “stay in your lane” as opposed to “you can be anything.” Why does Mattel choose to perpetuate the narrative that girls are only interested in “girly” things? Being in the business of appealing to children, how can they so greatly underestimate the broad scope of what is fun for girls?

     It is important to acknowledge that Mattel’s attempt to integrate a STEM kit into their inventory of “girls’ toys” is indeed a step in the right direction. However, beyond this first step, the product quickly went off the rails. Mattel needs to do more than stereotype if it truly wants to inspire future‐generation female scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.

     Another company we see as having a more appropriate representation of STEM for young girls, without cutting out gendered marketing entirely, is GoldieBlox. Their products include aspects of problem solving and engineering, while still being marketed to young girls using animals and fairy tales. Or, you could buy your daughter the same chemistry set or Tinker Toys you buy your son.  However, wring off the STEM Barbie is not an option, as the toy will, whether we like it or not, have an enormous impact. According to Mattel, an estimated 3 Barbies are sold a second, which is about 95 million sold a year. Because of this prevalence, improving the toy is hugely important.

     Mattel needs to offer their large audience of potential STEM professional tools to pique their curiosity, instead of enforcing old stereotypes. Mattel should focus primarily on changing the experiments included to reflect modern standards of professional women. Members in our club suggested that including more realistic scientific tools would be helpful. In addition, many said replacing the simple readymade pieces with slightly more complex and varied parts would enhance the engineering aspect of the STEM toy. The small greenhouse that Barbie builds is also, to Mattel’s credit, worth keeping.

     Mattel’s promotional video accompanying the Barbie STEM kit shows few scenes of Barbie working in a lab or in an office, but does end with the image of her relaxing in a hammock, after a “hard day’s” work, which is telling of the environment in which Mattel seems to think women belong. Although relaxation is a goal for many working people, this is hardly an inspiring image of a successful STEM professional; certainly, Mattel can and must do better. As one member said, “We’ve come a long way, but I don’t think we should settle.”

By Attila E. Pavlath


Space Chemistry: How it Helps Space Exploration

Monday, April 3, 8:00 am–11:55 am

2000, Mosconne Center


     The keynote speaker of this symposium will be Dr. Shannon Lucid. Shannon is an ACS member and one of the first woman astronauts. She held the record for spending the most time, six months, on the International Space Station carrying out various experiments. She will give a summary of her work, discussing the importance of space chemistry research and give her view about the future. She stated that she had a dream to be both a chemist and an astronaut.

     “Space: the final frontier." As the famous Star Trek quote hints, space is becoming more and more important. This is the reason why a group of domestic and international ACS members petitioned last year the formation of a Division of Space Chemistry. (See

     The process is underway and the formation of this new Division is expected to be approved by ACS Council at the Fall Meeting in Washington DC. Since nothing can be done by this future Division until it is officially approved, last year Dr. Donna Nelson, then ACS President recognizing the importance  of chemistry in space exploration, recruited the Younger Chemists Committee to sponsor a Space Chemistry Symposium at the Spring ACS meeting in San Francisco. The proponents of Division acquired 15 experts in this area both domestic and international to deliver lectures on Monday, April 3.

By Kim Woznack


WCC Open Meeting and “Just Cocktails” Reception

Monday, April 3, 4:00 pm–5:00 pm

Nikko Ballroom II, Hotel Nikko San Francisco


If you are interested in celebrating the 90th anniversary of WCC, honoring the 2017 WCC Rising Stars, and learning more about the WCC mission, programs and resources, please join us at the next WCC Open Meeting and “Just Cocktails” reception. This free, informal event allows people to network with the members of the WCC as well as other ACS members. Tell your friends and   colleagues and we look forward to seeing you at the next “Just Cocktails” event.

By Maureen Kane


WCC Rising Star Award Symposium

Monday, April 3, 1:30 pm–3:50 pm

Monterey II, Hotel Nikko San Francisco

Cosponsored by BIOL, ENFL, PRES


     The Rising Star Award was established in 2011 to help promote retention of women in science. It recognizes exceptional early‐ to midcareer women chemists across all areas of chemistry on a national level.


The 2017 recipients will highlight their work at this award symposium:

  • Rebecca Abergel, Ph.D. ‐ Staff Scientist in the Chemical Sciences Division; Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
  • Yimon Aye, Ph.D. ‐ Assistant Professor of Chemistry & Chemical Biology; Cornell University
  • Erin S. Baker, Ph.D. ‐ Senior Research Scientist IV in the Biological Sciences; Division, Earth & Biological Sciences Directorate, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
  • Erin E. Carlson, Ph.D. ‐ Associate Professor of Chemistry; University of Minnesota ‐ Twin Cities
  • Beata A. Kilos, Ph.D. ‐ Associate Research Scientist in Core R&D, Inorganic Materials and Heterogeneous Catalysis; The Dow Chemical Company (Midland, MI)
  • Ah‐Hyung (Alissa) Park, Ph.D. ‐ Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering & Chemical Engineering; Columbia University


Selection as a Rising Star is a distinct honor of professional accomplishment within this leading organization of chemists.

By Jodie Wesemann


The Importance of Role Models & Mentors in Reaching  Gender Equity in Chemical Sciences: A Symposium in  Honor of Judith Iriarte‐Gross

Sunday, April 2, 1:30 pm–4:45 pm

Tuesday, April 4, 8:30 am–11:15 am

Monterey II, Hotel Nikko San Francisco

Co‐sponsored by CHED, CMA, PROF


     Judith Iriarte‐Gross is the 2017 recipient of the ACS Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences. This award recognizes significant  accomplishments by individuals who have stimulated or fostered the interest of women in chemistry, promoting their professional developments as chemists or chemical engineers.

     A professor of chemistry and director of the Women in STEM Center, Middle Tennessee State University, Judith is being honored for her continued persistence and tireless efforts to level the playing field for women in  chemistry and to inspire young women to major in chemistry. This symposium includes presentations from those who she mentored and those who mentored her, along with Judith’s award address.

     The ACS Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences is sponsored by The Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.

Maya Nilkant

Start-ups and Spin-offs

Posted by Maya Nilkant Jun 6, 2017

by Ean Warren


Women in Chemical Enterprise Breakfast

April 3, 2017, 7:30 am–9:00 am

Imperial B, Hilton Union Square

With support from BASF and MPPG

(Ticketed Event)


     For over 20 years, WCC has organized the Women in the Chemical Enterprise Breakfast, a program designed to initiate discussion on topics relevant to women in the chemical sciences. We will have two guests in San Francisco: Dr. Molly Morse and Dr. Xiaoxi Wei.

     Molly is the CEO and co‐founder of Mango Materials, a San Francisco Bay Area‐based start‐up company that  uses methane gas to feed bacteria that manufacture a biopolymer. Molly received her Ph.D. in Civil & Environmental Engineering–with an emphasis on anaerobic biodegradation of biocomposites for the building industry–from Stanford University, and her B.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Cornell University. Molly has contributed to multiple patents, publications and presentations. Along with other Mango Materials team members, she is currently working to up‐scale the technology of using methane gas to produce environmentally friendly materials.

     Xiaoxi is an entrepreneur and chemistry professional in the area of supramolecular assembly. She has developed synthetic transmembrane nanopores with distinguished selectivity and hyper‐effective ice prevention materials via biomimetic nanoscience. Xiaoxi founded X‐Therma in 2014 and is the inventor of X‐Therma’s core technology to develop a state‐of‐the‐art biopreservation/antifreeze formulation that incorporates a first‐in‐class hypereffective and non‐toxic proprietary antifreeze polymer. X‐Therma will first enable safer transport and long‐term biobanking for advanced stem cell therapies, IVF, organ transplants, and other regenerative medicines before scaling to other large markets.

     Random Business Card Exchange is a new activity designed to encourage networking after the Women in the Chemical Enterprise breakfast. Mentors dropped a business card in a bag and mentees picked one up. There were three bags from which to choose a card, one each for business, academia, and government and other non‐profits. The idea is to encourage one‐on-one relationships to discuss work and experiences. We hope this project will be another way to connect students and early career chemists with more experienced scientists.


Join us in San Francisco for what will be an enlightening discussion on start‐ups and spin‐offs!

By Jaime Curtis-Fisk


     Congratulations to the Chicago Local Section on receiving the 2016 WCC ChemLuminary award! This award is given to a local section by the Women Chemists Committee to recognize outstanding efforts in promoting women in the chemical sciences. This award serves as a recognition of outstanding accomplishment and highlights successful programming and initiatives that serve as an example for other sections. The East Central Illinois and Pittsburgh Local Sections were also finalists for the award, having both demonstrated significant accomplishment and impact to their community.

     The Chicago Section WCC’s year included a Nontraditional Chemistry Career Forum to attract women to chemical science careers outside of the box. The students learned about what working chemists can do with their chemistry degrees. The Committee cosponsored an AAUW $tart $mart workshop that provided women with the knowledge and skills for negotiating salaries and benefits in order to receive fair and realistic compensation as they approach the job market. Another activity was a mentoring event at which Chicago Section women mentors talked about their careers and experiences in graduate school and post‐doc positions. The Chicago Section WCC held a Mix & Mingle jointly with Iota Sigma Pi, which featured a Jeopardy‐style game show with chemistry‐based questions. Several women served as liaisons to 38 Chicago‐area colleges and universities, publicizing activities of the Chicago Section WCC. At ChemDay 2015, the Chicago Section WCC had a table with 12 posters & activities, including a Periodic Table jigsaw puzzle that students finished during the event. Tom Lehrer's song of the Elements played nonstop while students used WCC‐inspired & decorative inkstamps saying "GIRLS = GREAT CHEMISTS", "I WANT TO BE A CHEMIST", and "GIRLS + CHEMISTRY = FUN". Careers in chemistry and their educational requirements were discussed with students.

     Each year, the East Central Illinois WCC organizes a day camp at the University of Illinois at Urbana‐Champaign. Since its inception in 2008, “Bonding with Chemistry: A Day for Girls” has invited middle school girls from the area and around the state to participate in a full day of chemistry related activities led by graduate students at the university. There are often campers who have enjoyed themselves so much they return for multiple years, which encourages the graduate student volunteers and organizers to keep the experience exciting and new. Students rotate among stations, each with a unique theme related to natural phenomena and chemical principles. A favorite event has been t‐shirt chromatography in which campers e‐dye shirts while learning the principles of liquid chromatography. Participants receive take‐home items, projects, and a lab notebook of all the day’s activities. All of these activities and additional outreach is at no cost to the students in an effort to serve the entire community. In 2015, 90 girls attended the camp, with nearly 50 graduate student volunteers, and two central organizers. Overall, this day camp has now reached hundreds of middle school girls (some of whom are now well into college!) and graduate students.

     The Greater Pittsburgh Area WCC takes an inclusive view of the events and programs implemented to have the most extensive impact on attracting, developing, promoting, and advocating for women in the chemical sciences. The following is only few of the 2015 sponsored events: A Careers in Chemistry Symposium; a Couture, Cosmetics, and Chemistry Workshop (geared towards 7‐10th grade students and also provided for Girl Scouts); and a STEM‐ulate Success Science Showcase (poster session for high school students to learn the art of scientific presentations and undergraduates to learn evaluative skills by serving as judges).

By Ana de Bettencourt-Dias


     The WCC congratulates Dr. Serena DeBeer, the 2016  Inorganic Chemistry Lectureship Award recipient. Serena received her BS in Chemistry at Southwestern University in 1995 and her PhD in Chemistry from Stanford University in 2002, where she worked with Edward I. Solomon and Keith O. Hodgson. She then worked as beam line and staff scientist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator until 2009 and then moved to Cornell University for her first faculty position. In 2011, she accepted the position of Professor and Research Group Leader at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion in Mülheim, Germany. Serena received her award for her contributions to the development and application of  advanced X‐ray spectroscopy coupled to computational methods to understand key mechanisms in biological, homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis. Her award address will be at the ACS National Meeting in San Francisco, CA, on April 3, 2017.

By Jodi Wesemann


     A senior chemistry major at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University (CSB/ SJU) in central Minnesota, Claire Buysse is the 2016 recipient of the Priscilla Carney Jones Scholarship. The scholarship is a one‐time award based on both merit and financial need.

     Claire’s love of chemistry and her plans to pursue a doctoral degree in atmospheric chemistry have grown through a series of academic and research experiences. In high school, she took college-level courses from a female teacher, role model, and family friend. In college, she has been inspired by other students with the same sense of determination and ambition in chemistry. At CSB/SJU, she works as a tutor and teaching assistant for the Chemistry Department. She is an active member of the Chem Club and is currently serving as President.

     Research experiences helped Claire discover a passion for the Earth sciences. Along with pursuing research opportunities during the academic year at CSB/SJU, she has participated in the North Dakota State University Research on the Prairies Summer Research Experiences for Undergraduate Program, the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean Summer Research  Internship Program at University of Washington–Seale, and the NASA Student Airborne Research Program. She developed her own research project based on the data collected aboard a NASA DC‐8 research aircraft and will present her research on secondary organic aerosols at the Spring 2017 ACS National Meeting in San Francisco.

     The Priscilla Carney Jones Scholarship was established by Paul R. Jones, in memory of his wife, to provide scholarships for female undergraduate majors in chemistry or related disciplines who are beginning their junior or  senior years of study. Priscilla Carney Jones wished to have this scholarship established because of the difficulties she faced as a female chemist early in her career.

By Jodi Wesemann


     Dr. Anastassia Alexandrova, is an Associate Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry at UCLA, where her research focuses on multiscale modeling of materials. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Saratov University, conducted predoctoral work at the Russian Academy of Sciences, earned her Ph.D. at Utah State University, and held two postdoctoral positions at Yale University. The second was an American Cancer Society Fellowship.

     Anastassia has been recognized for her research and educational contributions. She has received a NSF CAREER Award, the Glenn T. Seaborg Award and Professor of the Year at UCLA, Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, a DARPA Young Faculty Award, and an ACS YCC Leadership Development Award.

     Anastassia has a highly visible cutting‐edge international research program that makes tight connections between theory and experiment, and an ability to bring all this excitement into the undergraduate classroom. Her research on multi-scale modeling and design of new materials, includes artificial metalloenzymes, clusters, alloys, and heterogeneous catalytic interfaces, using electronic structure insights. A course she developed, “Computation Methods for Chemists”, involves a final research project that has twice resulted in publications.


For more information about Dr. Anastassia Alexandrova, please see the following sites:‐n

By Ean Warren


    Dr. Elise Fox has been an engineer with Savannah River National Laboratory since 2006. Her research has focused on chemical characterization of materials and grid integration of renewable energy technologies. Her projects involve energy production, either developing new materials for more efficient energy production, or understanding how materials behave during production. Her work has resulted in more than 25 peer‐reviewed journal articles, four book chapters, 29 published conference proceedings, two patents, and 15 successfully funded proposals.

     Her career started at College of Charleston with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. She went on to get her M.S. and Ph.D. at Pennsylvania State University with Dr. Chunshan Song, studying the role of metals and oxygen on ceria‐supported copper‐palladium bimetallic catalysts.

     Elise has been active in ACS affairs since moving to Aiken. She has been a member of  the Younger Chemists Committee and Committee on Environmental Improvement, and active in the Division on Energy & Fuels and the former Division on Petroleum Chemistry. She works
with Savannah River Local Section and has been Chair and Alternate‐Councilor, as well as Chemists Celebrate Earth Day and National Chemistry Week coordinator.

     She has received numerous awards and recognition for her work. While at College of Charleston, she was a Life Scholar. She was a Robert M. Graham Fellow at Penn State in 2001 and 2002 and travelled to Nagoya Japan as an NSF Travel Fellow. In graduate school, she received a Frank and Lucy Rusinko Fellowship in Fuel Science. She received travel awards in 2005 and 2008, one from the North American Catalysis Society, another from World University Network, and one from ACS Leadership Institute. She was awarded an Electrochemical Society    Bernard S. Baker Student Award for Fuel Cell Research, a WCC Lectureship Award, and an ACS Salute to Excellence from the Savannah River Local Section. In 2013, she was a vising lecturer to the Joint Center for Energy Research, Dalian University of Technology, Dalian, China.

     Elise is Mom to 8 year old budding scientist twins, Colin and Hannah. She agrees with Ruth Bader Ginsburg when she said that the most important decision you will ever make is who you choose to spend your life with. Having a supportive husband who isn’t afraid to step in and take care of the children and who thinks that her work is just as important as his, has enabled her to push for stretch projects both at work and in her volunteer activities.  Elise credits ACS for providing career development and leadership opportunities that she would not have had otherwise. Her advice to young chemists is “to volunteer early and often. You never know what may come from it. Also, don’t box yourself in. Don’t be afraid to take a chance and try something new professionally.”

By Alexia Fiontello


Dr.  Rongjuan Cong credits her successes to her hard work and the mentoring and coaching that she has received throughout her career. As a first generation immigrant, she earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry in China. She later moved to Japan and studied to become a Japanese translator in Canada. Her love of mathematics and models led her to completing her PhD in Chemical Engineering from McMaster University in Ontario. She started her career at Dow Chemical in Analytical Sciences and has worked on solving business problems for the plastics, polyethylene, and materials science product development groups.

     When asked about the keys to her success, Cong emphasized that teamwork, having good mentors and coaches, and a passion for her work has helped throughout her career. Her love of what she does was clearly demonstrated during the WCC Rising Star Symposium.

     Some advice Cong offers to women starting their careers is to be open‐minded, find mentors and be willing to be coached. She has experienced firsthand the positive impact of good mentoring and coaching that helped her expand her knowledge and develop a new expertise in polyethylene technology area.

     Outside of work Cong enjoys gardening and harvesting from the 12 different fruit trees she has in her yard. Her favorite fruit is the pineapple.

     For Cong, the scientific challenges she faces are the most exciting part of her job. The thrill of solving problems and watching her teams work diligently and work well together is what brings her career satisfaction.

By Kim Woznack


     Dr. Amanda Hummon, 2016 WCC Rising Star, is a Pittsburgh, PA native who completed her undergraduate work at Cornell University, followed by her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, Urbana‐Champaign. After postdoctoral appointments with the University of Illinois and the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, she began her career as a faculty member at Notre Dame. In addition to being recognized as a WCC Rising Star, Amanda has also been recognized with a NSF CAREER award and a Society for Analytical Chemists of Pittsburg starter grant.

     The Hummon research group focuses on using analytical chemistry to explore the proteomics of cancer. They have developed and adapted mass spectrometry tools for studying cancer progression. 

     In addition to the crucial research that they do, the Hummon group also likes to have fun.  This includes modeling important safety habits, like wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), with each member adopting a moppet alter ego.


For more information on Dr. Amanda Hummon and her research group at the University of Notre Dame, please see the following sites:‐b‐hummon/ Welcome.html 

By Kim Woznack


Dr. Karelle Aiken, 2016 WCC Rising Star, is currently an Associate Professor at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA. She is recognized for her outstanding work at GSU with undergraduate students, graduate students, and new faculty members.

     Karelle Aiken was born in Jamaica. As a young woman, she was part of speech‐choirs in which she performed with family members. She admits that she was shy but that she really enjoyed the mentorship she received during those times. Karelle moved to the U.S. in 1996 to begin college. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from Williams College and her Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the University of New Hampshire. The warm climate in Statesboro, and the strong student‐centered atmosphere in the chemistry department at GSU impressed Karelle.  She has been at GSU since 2007. 

     Karelle’s research group’s projects are diverse and range from organic synthesis and characterization to synthesis of organic‐based semiconductors and sensors. She leads a highly successful and NSF‐funded departmental summer research experience for undergraduates (REU) program. Karelle has published papers with her students, and they have presented their work at regional and national meetings of the American Chemical Society and National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE). Karelle was the founding member of the Georgia Southern NOBCChE chapter. Dr. Karelle Aiken’s dedication to mentoring student researchers has had a significant impact on the lives of so many.


For more information about Dr. Karelle Aiken, please see the following sites:‐chemical‐society‐rising ‐star‐award/  

By Ean Warren


At the Women in the Chemical Enterprise Breakfast  during the ACS National Meeting in Philadelphia, Hannah Murnen, the VP of Business Development at Compact Membrane Systems, discussed diversity in the workplace with “It’s about all the people”: What are the problems, why is diversity important, why do we care and what can we do to address the problem? Hannah presented data about the issue, reasons for encouraging a diverse workforce, limitations in achieving diversity, and ways to counter bias. Organized by WCC, the Fall 2016 breakfast was held with support of BASF.