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5 Questions for a Scientist: Bioengineer Z. Maria Oden

The gap between the science classroom and a real-life career in the sciences can seem distant for some students. The 5 Questions for a Scientist interview series was created to bridge this gap! We aim to inspire students to pursue careers in the sciences by showcasing the incredible diversity of STEM careers by talking to scientists themselves. See all of the interviews here.


Get to know Maria

Occupation: Professor
Institution: Rice University
Field: Biomedical Engineering
Focus: Engineering Design

Maria is a professor in the Practice of Engineering in the Department of Bioengineering at Rice University’s George R. Brown School of Engineering, Director of the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen at Rice, and co-director of Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health. She and her students solve real-world problems by using engineering to invent, test, and deploy medical devices and technologies locally and internationally. With her colleague, Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Maria developed the Rice 360° program to create health technology solutions for the developing world. The program has fostered, among dozens of other devices, the invention of a bCPAP system to help premature babies breathe, a syringe pump, an apnea detection and correction monitor, medication dosing clips, a blood pressure monitor for pregnant women, and an incubator. For their work, the Rice 360° program won the Science Prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction and the Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation. Maria, who grew up in Brazil, is a 2016–2017 AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador and a two-time recipient of Rice’s George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching and has won the Fred Merryfield Design Award from the American Society for Engineering Education for excellence in teaching engineering design.

1. Explain what you do in your work in one sentence (or two!).
My students and I design medical technologies to improve healthcare for mothers and babies in the world’s lowest resource settings.

2. When did you first become interested in your field?
I have always been interested in medicine, engineering, and technology. I also always wanted to feel like my work could make a difference. Designing devices that help doctors save people’s lives combines all of these goals.  

3. What is your favorite part of being a scientist or of science in general?
I have the ability to figure out the science or engineering problems I want to work on and then use my skills to move the topic ahead in some way. Hopefully my work will have a positive impact on others.

4. What is a typical day like for you as a scientist?
I think my days are like most other adults with a family. I wake up early so that I have time to prepare for the day, get my kids ready and off to school. Then I go to work where I teach engineering classes and do research with technologies that my students and I have designed. Sometimes I get to travel to Africa or Brazil to implement the technologies with partners in those places.

5. Do you have any advice for young people interested in science today?
Follow your passion. Work on something that is interesting and important to you because not every day will be exciting, but every day will move you closer to the excitement of success!

 

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