Biotechnology - Disease Prevention - Therapeutics

Hall of Fame Highlight: Joanna Aizenberg

Joanna Aizenberg talks about the people who inspire her, her advice to early-career researchers, and her hopes for the future of scientific research.

Joanna Aizenberg is a pioneer in the rapidly developing field of biomimetic inorganic materials. Moreover, Aizenberg is Professor of Materials Science and Chemistry, Director of the Kavali Institute for Bionano Science and Technology, and Platform Leader of the Wyss Institute at Harvard University.

From an early age, Joanna’s talent and interest in mathematics and science was apparent, as a recurring winner of mathematical Olympiads. This was perhaps no surprise, as the “abnormally curious” daughter of a civil engineer and medical doctor.

Later, as she progressed through school and onto University, Joanna was fortunate enough to be mentored by some remarkable scientists, including Prof. Lia Addadi and Prof. Steve Weiner from the Weizmann Institute of Science, and Prof. George Whitesides at Harvard, who she undeniably credits, along with her family, for influencing her career choices to date.

But achieving academic success has not been without challenges. “As a person who got education in several countries, I know first-hand that research establishments can be organized in very different ways” comments Joanna, noting that this can lead to “many different obstacles to having and seizing opportunities [that can take] quite a lot of effort to navigate.”

Nevertheless, Joanna’s advice to all researchers starting out in their field, irrespective of where they are, remains the same: “Good and bad science takes the same time, so it is better to start doing good science from the get-go”, a quote attributed to a well-known physicist Abram Fedorovich Ioffe.

She also believes “originality is much more exciting than a well-established path” and advises to “pay close attention to your own scientific artifacts—they may actually be much more interesting than what you are carefully planning.”

Joanna is particularly interested in fundamental scientific research, which she believes to be the cornerstone of scientific and human progress, and hopes that such research could help to achieve future breakthroughs in diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer and hereditary diseases—fields of particular interest to her—and, of course, to creating novel materials that could “adjust, reconfigure, respond and self-heal.”

To learn about some of the research that inspires Joanna, please take a look at her recent review on liquid-infused surfaces for medical applications in the Advanced Materials hall of fame virtual issue.

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