Fadji Maina and Maryna Bilokur
Words Mariah Lives By: “Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
Mariah’s journey to Berkeley Lab
Mariah was born and raised in Virginia, where she did both her undergraduate and graduate studies. She went to Christopher Newport University, where she got her Bachelor in Chemistry and she received her Ph.D. from Virginia Commonwealth University. Full of energy and enthusiasm, she joined the Chemical Sciences Division of the Lab in March 2019 where she is working on actinides.
Her passion for chemistry started very early in her life
Mariah’s desire to become a scientist originated in K2 when she was impressed by a water bend experiment performed by one of her teachers. Since then, she decided to study chemistry and understand the structure of the atoms that surround us. She also knew as a child that she will become a scientist and performed research as she was inspired by the work of her grandfather, a Ph.D. in psychology.
She says: “When someone is talking about science, it’s contagious, I get passionate about it as well”
Mariah is very conscious that her passion for chemistry and research aroused from people that inspired her and helped her discover the beauty of scientific research at a very young age. As such, she is very involved in outreach activities and is very eager to, in her turn, inspire many young students.
Before stepping into a Ph.D. journey, Mariah decided to take a year off and went to Guyana (South America) to teach chemistry and physics in high school. She lived next to the rainforest with other teachers and even got lucky to see baby anacondas, 18 feet long!
Delving into the fundamental gas-phase reaction of actinides
Mariah is currently working on fundamental gas-phase reactions of different actinides complexes. Actinides have unique chemical properties (e.g. high energy), which allow them to be used for many purposes such as nuclear engineering and oncology. Due to the complex interactions of actinides with other molecules in solution, studying their chemical properties requires a gas phase separation. By understanding fundamental interactions with actinide complexes, she believes her research can uncover the unique chemistry these complexes can do while relying on computational operations to bridge a gas phase and condensed phase.
Co-chair of the Early Careers Employee Resource Group
When moving from her hometown on the East coast to the West coast, Mariah faced challenges related to her new environment. She says: “it was hard at the beginning to find good support and make new friends”. Besides, she was constantly experiencing the imposter syndrome. She quickly overcame these challenges by talking to the Lab employees.
The lab, she says, is a unique place where you can meet and interact with well-established scientists. You will never feel alone as many share the same struggles as you. She believes that learning from people who have already gone through all these challenges is important and that early careers should continue the ongoing fight instead of starting from scratch.
The Early Careers Employee Resource Group aims to pair early careers to mid- to late-career employees at the Lab through mentorship programs.
Her dream research question
Mariah would love to study every molecule interactions in a catalytic cycle. Understanding these processes is very challenging as these reactions happen very quickly. If she could go back in time, she would love to study these reactions with Marie Curie, a pioneer in actinides research, the only woman to win the Nobel prize twice and the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two different scientific fields. She says: “I would talk to Madam Curie, she did a lot of actinide research, this is exactly what I’m currently doing! Plus she worked at a time where she was constantly told women don’t work”
Advice for new postdocs
“Settle in the community before to settle in your science”
“Ask questions. This is a good way to build connections and get to know people. Do scary things like changing fields and your area of expertise”, her Ph.D. advisor’s advice.