Many of her colleagues may not know it, but before PhD candidate and Academy Member María López-Montañés began her doctoral work, she used to cheer up young people working as a clown at birthday parties. Today, she brings that same joy to everything from her work in immunology at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain, to field research in Costa Rica, to mentoring young people in the Barcelona branch of our Afterschool STEM Mentoring Program.
Learn more about María's work, her travels, and what inspires her about science and mentoring in the interview below.
What are you working on in the lab these days?
I am studying the response of the Natural Killer cells to herpes virus, mainly Cytomegalovirus and Epstein-Barr Virus.
What has been one of the most rewarding moments of your career?
When my first paper was published in a scientific journal. The title of the paper is "NKG2C zygosity influences CD94/NKG2C receptor function and the NK-cell compartment redistribution in response to human cytomegalovirus" and it was published in The European Journal of Immunology in December of 2013.
Who has been your biggest science inspiration?
Gregor Mendel. Ever since I studied the laws of inheritance in the school and how he did his hybridization experiments with garden peas and tons of patience I have been interested in science and research.
What is one thing you love to do outside the lab?
I love travelling. I like to take my backpack and discover new places around the world, meeting new people, learning about different cultures, and enjoy nature by trekking.
When I was in the fourth year of my degree I was selected with other students at the University of Salamanca to go to Costa Rica to spend four months as a research assistant in the Pacuare Natural Reserve. The main focus was the protection of the sea turtles. We had to patrol the beach every night waiting for the turtles to arrive at the beach to spawn. Then we had to register each turtle and relocate the eggs to hide them from people who wanted to steal them. In the morning, we had to monitor the nests that had hatched.
We combined this main turtle conservation project with other projects such as forest reforestation and environmental education in a little school situated near the Reserve where we lived. Moreover, when we had holidays we went to Nicaragua, the central and the east part of Costa Rica, and Bocas del Toro to take the Advanced Open Water Diver Course, giving us the opportunity to dive in the most beautiful place I have ever dived. So, this was my first amazing trip.
What's the best piece of career advice you've received?
Enjoy what you do because you will have to do it for a long time.
What do you think is most important benefit of the Afterschool STEM Mentoring Program?
I think it's important to bring science directly into the classroom and this program allows young people to learn science from young scientists who can help them change their initial ideas about what science is.
Do you want to help change young people's perceptions about science and get them excited about careers in STEM? Sign up to get alerts when new mentorship opportunities open up by visiting our Mentor Portal: www.nyas.org/mentor
Read more #IAmNYAS profiles here.