STEM Pinay of the Month

Chemis-trying to Find Your Element with Herdeline Ann Ardoña

As the saying goes, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate! Learn how to make STEM a better place for women from materials chemist and professor, Herdeline Ann Ardoña.

“Developing biomaterials with optical and electronic functionalities that are compatible with excitable cells such as cardiomyocytes”–does this sound like a mouthful? For materials chemist Herdeline Ann Ardoña, there’s more to science than the textbooks and the big, highfalutin words. To her, the sciences are where different worlds collide and collaborate to make things better for others. (Speaking of which, those long words are what her team currently does! More on that later.)

Herdeline’s STEM journey began with her love of Chemistry. She mentions that while it was unusual to imagine a young girl as a scientist, she took a leap of faith despite it not being the popular choice for people like her.  She recalls, “I liked how Chemistry has so many branches—each of them is very different from one another, but all of them are towards understanding the fundamental properties and reactivity of matter. That is remarkably interesting to me.” She mentions that her interest grew while she was doing hands-on research. She learned so much from this—from organic chemistry to its applications in biomaterials engineering, this has trained her to take a more transdisciplinary approach in her lab work, as well as solving questions in science and engineering.

The sciences are so diverse that even within one field of study, there are still so many smaller branches and interests under it. This collaborative energy between and within fields is one of the things Herdeline loves the most about the world of STEM. “In graduate school, I was incredibly happy to be in an environment where interdisciplinary research is fostered.” Up to this day, she still carries the same team spirit in her current work. Remember the first words of this article? To make those a bit more digestible, her team’s task is to control cell/tissue behavior—a crossover between chemistry, engineering, and biology!

Taking a look at Herdeline’s upbringing, it’s no surprise how she ended up studying chemistry. With a mother who studied biology, now a nurse, and a grandmother who is a chemical engineer, Herdeline was raised in an environment that taught her that women have a place in the sciences. She says, “It had so much impact on me to see, from a young age, a woman working in STEM. “ Because of this, she never saw her gender as a hindrance to her work, yet some other factors made it a bit harder for her to get to where she is today. 

“One of the hindering factors for Filipino researchers is the limited availability of funding to support STEM research, as well as the facilities and equipment required to conduct research.” For this reason, Filipino scientists often look elsewhere and seek opportunities abroad to get proper hands-on training. Herdeline also mentions that there are so many skilled and talented scientists and researchers in the Philippines who are not fortunate to have the same resources. She expresses her hopes by saying, “This experience is something that equally talented undergraduates back home do not necessarily get. I wish that this situation will change eventually.”

However, not all hope is lost. She also gives credit to online avenues (and even gives our blog a little shoutout!) in inspiring aspiring Filipino scientists to take on the path to succeeding. “Platforms such as Pinays Can STEM should be continuously supported so that young Pinays can learn about the different trajectories that one can take to be successful in a STEM career.”

Always remember that those successes will not only serve you but can also open the doors for the next generation of girls behind you.

Knowing the stories of others can truly give us a better look at what options we have, but Herdeline also conversely says that our journeys could help others make sense of theirs as well. “There is no single, best path for girls who want to pursue a career in STEM. It is up to you to find and follow the path where you’ll be most excited. This is not an easy career path, but it is your enthusiasm towards small steps that will lift you towards bigger successes. Always remember that those successes will not only serve you but can also open the doors for the next generation of girls behind you.”

Herdeline Ann Ardoña is a materials chemist hailing from Valenzuela City, Philippines. She completed her BS in Chemistry at the University of the Philippines, Diliman and received her PhD in Chemistry at Johns Hopkins University, funded by Schlumberger Foundation and Howard Hughes Medical Institute. For 3 years, she was an ACS Irving Sigal Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Irvine Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

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