‘Create your own path’: UCSD scientist fuses research of cell division with creating fashion
Beata Mierzwa is integrating her passion for science with her penchant for creativity and sharing that passion with younger females to encourage them to pursue their own interests. That earned her a feature on “Mission Unstoppable,” a CBS TV show aimed at highlighting work like hers.
Mierzwa is a postdoctoral researcher in molecular biology at UC San Diego and Ludwig Cancer Research, which is on the UCSD campus and is affiliated with its medical school and the UCSD Moores Cancer Center.
She said her work entails “trying to understand how the tiny processes work inside the cell and to be able to understand it and give us the ability to cure diseases and have a positive impact in the world.”
“Specifically, what I do is study how different types of cells divide inside our body,” said Mierzwa, a Pacific Beach resident. “The aim is to improve the way we treat cancer. If we’re able to find drugs that target only certain cancer cells but don’t harm healthy cells, then we can make the treatment more effective and less harmful.”
A few years ago, Mierzwa realized she could merge her proficiency at the microscope with her more creative side.
“I was always interested in science and art,” she said, having grown up in Poland and Austria with an engineer as her father and a painter as her mother. “I had both worlds, but when I was young, I never thought about being able to combine them. I didn’t really have any role models.”
In high school, “I thought I had to pick between ... science or art,” Mierzwa said. “I decided to go to science first because I was always fascinated with the concept of how we are made of cells and all the things that make life possible.”
Halfway to her Ph.D., she “had a random opportunity to make a drawing for my fellowship organizers,” she said. “I drew a … drawing where there’s two cells and they’re literally using scissors to cut each other apart.
“People got really excited about science after seeing this, and I realized it’s really great to get people excited about science and to communicate it.”
Mierzwa said she’s “always been into fashion; I love sewing my own clothes, and through my research I get to see a lot of really beautiful images in the lab. But I always thought it’s such a pity that they get shared so rarely outside the lab.”
She began printing images of cell division on fabric and then turned the fabric into clothing, masks, bags and more, opening a shop online at etsy.com/shop/beatascienceart.
“It’s fun to have all kinds of conversations about science and people get curious about” the clothes and the science they represent, Mierzwa said. “That’s why I really love doing the fashion as well.”
“It’s been really great to see people like teachers getting something [from my shop] for the classrooms or scientists giving each other gifts,” she added. “It’s been really exciting to see that I can support that and I can help people spread the beauty of science everywhere they go as well.”
Mierzwa’s passion for communicating her love for science led to her becoming an American Association for the Advancement of Science If/Then ambassador. The If/Then initiative is “designed to further women in science, technology, engineering and math [STEM] by empowering current innovators and inspiring the next generation of pioneers,” according to the program’s website.
“I became an ambassador to be able to spread the word about science,” Mierzwa said. “It doesn’t have to be portrayed as intimidating and difficult. And I want to portray that you can also love art and creativity. You can be whoever you want.”
Mierzwa’s role as ambassador parlayed itself into a segment on “Mission Unstoppable,” a weekend show that features female STEM professionals.
In her segment, Mierzwa shows “how I use the microscope to take pictures of human cells and watch them divide.”
“Before I started studying science, I didn’t even know what [cells] looked like from the inside. I was just fascinated by it. ... Having that [demonstration] would have been really helpful for me,” she said.
The segment also showcases her fashion — from making it to wearing it.
“I just loved the opportunity to be able to inspire people, maybe students who have never been engaged by science before, people who are creative, who don’t fit the scientific stereotype, and to be able to show them that science also can be presented in a different way. Creativity is really important in science as well,” she said.
Mierzwa also works with Young Women in Bio “to get young girls and students excited about science.” She said she hopes to continue to “combine my research and my outreach in a way where I can focus all of my passions into one thing that I do.”
She said she’s also working on a video game in which “people can explore the inside of the cell, the beauty of the inside of the cell, and just see how amazing the tiny universe is inside of cells.”
Mierzwa said she wants girls to know “there’s all kinds of different types of scientists, all kinds of different STEM fields, and you can be a scientist and you don’t have to look like a traditional scientist. You can be yourself.”
“You don’t need to wait for someone’s permission to create your own path,” she said.
Mierzwa’s episode of “Mission Unstoppable,” which aired April 10, is posted at bit.ly/MissionUnstoppableCBS. ◆
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