Interview by Breanne Thomas
Hi Amanda! Can you tell us a little about your background and how you came to develop your project Beyond Curie?
I am a neuroscientist turned designer turned design strategist (clearly a big fan of the career pivot). I feel really fortunate to be part of the design strategy team at Capital One Labs, working to redefine the relationship between people and finances. We all want to make things that matter, so to be able to solve problems that impact people in one of the major spaces that can dramatically change society is very exciting.
Before design, my first passion was science. I actually got into neuroscience through dance and was a ballerina for many years, until I had a terrible skiing accident that tore everything out of my knee. After my surgery, I couldn’t believe how much my sense of balance and coordination had changed. So I studied neuroscience at Columbia to understand why I couldn’t move as gracefully as I used to.
I moved on to conducting Alzheimer’s research at Columbia Medical Center. While I was there, I had an epiphany. I realized that, as a scientist, I was ill-equipped at communicating the vital urgency of my work to the general public. So I decided to do something about it. I quit doing research, got my MFA, and last year I founded The Leading Strand, an organization that brings scientists and designers together to co-create experiences that translate scientific research in rigorous and visually compelling ways. In my TED talk I share that the key to understanding science is storytelling, which brings us to Beyond Curie.
Like many people, I was feeling pretty upset after the election, and thinking a lot about how I could get more involved. One of my friends who had worked on the Hillary campaign suggested I pick a cause I care deeply about and support it in a way only I could. With Beyond Curie, I want to share stories and visuals that celebrate the rich history of women kicking ass in STEM fields — to show that our world was built by brilliant women, not just men, from all backgrounds. I want to inspire the next generation of young women to go into STEM fields and to show them that there are heroines out there that they can look to and many of them.
Of the 32 women you feature, who is the most personally inspiring to you and why?
When I read about Rita Levi-Montalcini in the 4th grade for a book report, she definitely became one of my heroes. Her story is one of grit, tenacity, and brilliance. When Mussolini barred all non-Aryan citizens in Italy from academic and professional careers, she set up a makeshift laboratory in her bedroom and continued to do research. It was in these conditions that she discovered nerve growth factor and won the Nobel Prize for this landmark achievement in 1968. I always remember her story when I face hardship and disappointment, and it helps me bounce back, get creative, and keep going.
If we’re talking about next-level badassery, I have to tell you about YouYou Tu. Before 2011, she was pretty much forgotten and unknown. She’s responsible for saving millions of lives with her discovery of artemisinin, a compound used to treat malaria that is isolated from the sweet wormwood plant. When others wanted to abandon the research, she found the key to isolating the compound from a millennium-old recipe. She also first tested the compound on herself! YouYou also has no postgraduate degree, no research experience abroad, and is not a member of any Chinese national academies. I love her bold, ‘all-in’ spirit and unconventional methods. Her story is such a great reminder that success doesn’t have to hinge on specific degrees and affiliations.
How can people support Beyond Curie and download your posters?
The best way to support Beyond Curie is to share the project. The world needs to know the names and stories of these amazing women! We can start to change the white male paradigm in STEM by increasing the visibility of these badass ladies. Anyone can download the March for Science posters here. The posters are also available on beyondcurie.com.