The Nuclear Security Enterprise is filled with scientists who are not only dedicated to furthering the missions of NNSA but also to expanding understanding of the world and paving the way for future generations.
Mercedes Taylor of Sandia National Laboratories and Harshi Mukundan of Los Alamos National Laboratory have been chosen by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to share their stories and serve as high-profile role models for girls.
A celebration of intellectual curiosity and mentorship, the AAAS IF/THEN ambassador program recognizes talented science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professionals across a variety of industries. With a philosophy of “if we support a woman in STEM, then she can change the world,” IF/THEN works to inspire and empower the next generation of pioneers.
Taylor and Mukundan are joined by an impressive collection of women, which includes university professors, company CEOs, postdoctoral researchers, and Department of Energy colleagues Amy Elliott from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Jessica Esquivel from Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and J’Tia Hart from Argonne National Laboratory.
“While I love doing science and working in a lab, I didn’t realize this was my dream job until I was in my 20s,” Taylor said. “I want girls to get excited about science earlier than I did and to dream about being scientists when they grow up. I can’t wait to show girls how fun chemistry is and how many cool careers there are in science. Having the opportunity to do this at a national level, through the AAAS IF/THEN program, is a great honor.”
Taylor earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Amherst College and doctorate in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. She is a Hruby Fellow at Sandia, conducting independent research into materials for water purification. Through chemical reactions, Taylor is seeking to develop new sponge-like materials that are selective for a particular contaminant while excluding harmless molecules that don’t need to be removed from water.
“I am delighted, honored, and humbled to be chosen as an AAAS IF/THEN Ambassador,” Mukundan said. “This provides me with an opportunity to promote science education and STEM careers in girls and women, and help develop a more diverse and stronger science community!”
Mukundan grew up in India, where she graduated with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in microbiology. She then moved to the United States and became the first person in her family to earn a doctoral degree. She initially came to Los Alamos as a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow and continued as a staff scientist in the chemistry division. Today, Mukundan is a team leader and deputy group leader there, and has developed a passion for mentoring students, postdoctoral fellows and young scientists.