1) What inspired you to work in STEM?
When I was a child in my parents’ native country of Romania, I read Marie Curie’s autobiography. She discovered radioactivity and named an element that she discovered Polonium after her native county Poland. I thought that it would be nice to one day do something amazing, similar to Marie Curie’s work, in the science field. In my formative years, my mother would spend hours cooking very complex traditional Romanian recipes in the kitchen. I was fascinated by the chemistry of cooking. We would measure ingredients and discuss acidity in foods. I learned about yeast and the environments that it needs to thrive. I think that my love of cooking led to my love of chemistry. They are a natural extension of one another.
Simona attended the University of South Carolina, studying chemistry/nanotechnology, Georgia Regents University (Augusta State University), and Babes-Bolyai University in Romania, studying chemistry/electrochemistry and physics with an education minor. She holds a Ph.D in chemistry/nanotechnology.
2) What excites you about your work at the Department of Energy?
The best part of my position as principal scientist for Savannah River National Laboratory is my ability to mentor and teach STEM education to the next generation of STEM leaders. I enjoy traveling and presenting new research ideas to countless current and future STEM leaders. I also enjoy my ability to promote STEM innovation, education, and research in national periodicals, on the web, and in local media.
Simona has the unique opportunity to work in both an office and laboratory setting. Her position allows her the opportunity to improve the scientific community by sharing books and manuscripts she has written in technical magazines with scientists worldwide. She is also able to share her knowledge directly through an advising and mentoring program. Her program has assisted students from undergraduate through postdoctoral programs.
Teaching and research are Simona's passions. She has taught numerous courses and hundreds of students at the middle, secondary, undergraduate, and graduate school levels. Sharing what she has learned through her academic background, research experience, and many STEM initiatives, she is not only inspiring her students and colleagues, but continuing to fuel her own intrinsic motivation to discover the next great advances in nanotechnology. She also spends a great deal of time presenting and lecturing at professional conferences around the world. "It is always exhilarating to share our research and learn from the best and brightest minds of the world of STEM," she says.
3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
The engagement of women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM education is a social and moral imperative. As we continue through the 21st century, it will be essential to diversify our perspectives in STEM related fields to ensure our progress toward solving many of mankind’s scientific mysteries are maximized. Providing project-based learning opportunities in the fields of STEM and mentoring underrepresented groups at an early age will create incentives for our culture to recognize the potential and value females will add to these fields. Over time, these female pioneers will become role models for this underrepresented population of scientists and will ignite stronger interest in young females to pursue STEM related fields, and more importantly it will help to change our social and cultural norms to be more accepting of females in these traditionally male dominated fields. If you are in need of a mentor, feel free to contact me at Simona.Murph@srnl.doe.gov.
4) Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
I tell students that wish to pursue a career in STEM, particularly in nanotechnology, to never give up. Persistence, motivation, and drive are the key factors to a successful career in STEM / nanotechnology or any career, for that matter. I encourage students not to become discouraged by obstacles, but to become motivated to try harder, study more, and dedicate themselves to achieving their goals. I think that it is also very important to educate yourself on your life goals. I find that partnering with a mentor in the field of STEM / nanotechnology is one of the best ways of focusing your direction toward achieving your career goals. I also feel that students must not become complacent. There are always those competitors out there working hard to achieve your goal. You must work harder than they do. Do not waste your summers going to the beach, but instead pursue summer internships, job shadowing opportunities, or join a science club, or team up with other STEM inspired kids. Talking to a science teacher or mentor in the field is an excellent way of increasing your odds for success in the field of STEM / nanotechnology.
5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
Though I love my research and devote much of my time to reading literature on nanoparticles and nanomaterials, I also enjoy spending a great deal of time examining international cultures. I specifically enjoy travelling and studying languages, cuisines, and cultural differences. I also enjoy volunteering in STEM related activities at our local schools and encouraging our young scholars to pursue their passions in STEM related fields.