LANL scientist shows girls that they can - Albuquerque Journal

LANL scientist shows girls that they can

Dr. Harshini Mukundan at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

A Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist was recently featured in “Mission Unstoppable,” a TV show that promotes women in STEM.

Dr. Harshini Mukundan was invited on the show to explain her role as a LANL group leader and her work in microbiology. She also leads a group of scientists who conduct a variety of research, including spectroscopy, which is how matter interacts with electromagnetic radiation, as well as biological work and more.

“As a scientist, I lead a group that actually looks at a team that looks at developing diagnostics for emerging infectious diseases,” Mukundan said. “Some of our research is trying to figure out ways to what I call agnostically detect – which means you don’t need to know what the pathogen is, what the bug is, but you are still able to identify it with some degree of reliability – so that we can be prepared for emerging threats like the COVID pandemic.”

Mukundan does science and STEM outreach because she believes it’s important to give back to the community and bring STEM awareness to girls. It’s actions like these that led her to be nominated as an ambassador for the #IfThenSheCan initiative.

Part of the IfThenSheCan initiative is an exhibit of statuary located in Dallas that features 121 life-size statues of women in STEM. (Courtesy of IF/THEN, 2021 Orange Capital Media, LLC. All rights reserved)

The initiative increases visibility for what women in science can look like.

The idea behind it is if someone supports a woman in STEM, then she can change the world, said Matt Crommett, director at Lyda Hill Philanthropies, which co-founded the #IfThenSheCan initiative.

The initiative also stands for, if she can see it, then she can be it, Crommett said.

This statue of Dr. Harshini Mukundan is included the IfThenSheCan initiative exhibit, which is located in Dallas and features 121 life-size statues of women in STEM. (Courtesy of IF/THEN. 2021 Orange Capital Media, LLC. All rights reserved)

Part of this initiative is an exhibit located in Dallas that features 121 life-size statues of women in STEM.

“As part of our work, we were looking for places where women were underrepresented. And statues, you know, came up as one of those very obvious places,” he said.

This work and outreach caught the attention of producers at “Mission Unstoppable,” who asked Mukundan to be on the show to speak about STEM outreach and what she does as a scientist. The show aired on CBS Oct. 2.

​I’ve never done anything like that before, so it was really fun and exciting,” she said. “It was also interesting to see the amount of work people put into it. You actually shoot the show for 10 hours that shows up as a 15-minute clip on TV.”

The show is hosted by former “iCarly” star Miranda Cosgrove, and highlights women in STEM and what they do.

For Mukundan’s episode, she said she showed her portable lab and explained how it works. Her lab uses a laser to detect microbes and pathogens that can cause diseases in soil, food and other materials.

In a clip from the show, Mukundan uses her lab to detect what microbes or pathogens may be in a raw chicken breast.

“Sometimes, as scientists, we get very comfortable in our jargon and the way that we talk about science,” she said. “I learned a lot of nuances about how to talk about my science in a way that could interest and be applicable to the greater community.”

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