“Science communication is really important, because it is our charge as a scientist to be able to explain what our research is and why it is important.” –Dr. Anahita Zare
For as long as she could remember, Dr. Anahita Zare knew that a future in science was inevitable. She didn’t have a moment of realization or epiphany, but rather it was an underlying feeling that her future was destined for a career of discovery. As a young student, she excelled in mathematics and showed a clear curiosity for scientific topics like studying the ocean and space. That curiosity was only the beginning of a journey that led her to work with science outreach and The Connector (formally the Broader Impacts Network). What started as an intuitive interest in science has led to a career dedicated to bringing science to others.
Whether it was biology (her first college major) or chemistry, where she found her home, Dr. Zare found that science was a part of every aspect of the world around her, including unexpected places like music. For years she played the violin and viewed it as a very scientific endeavor. Her interest spanned beyond the music itself, and her scientific brain wanted to investigate how the instrument worked. She learned about its internal pieces, all of which have a particular purpose and contribute to the overall sound quality of the instrument. Changing the positioning, shape, or wood type would change a violin’s output. She took her art and made it science.
As she progressed through her education, Dr. Zare discovered a particular interest in chemistry due to its practical application in her life; however, it all clicked when she was introduced to the field of analytical chemistry. Dr. Zare’s curious spirit found a home, which allowed her to look at chemistry through the practical applications of instruments enabling her to quantify the science that always intrigued her. She decided to attend graduate school in order to continue investigating, which lead her to a fruitful career at MU. She was particularly drawn to the lab group of Dr. Renee JiJi, where she studied membrane proteins using a laser to look at the structure of these proteins in their native environment.
But learning about science for her own educational growth was not enough for Dr. Zare. She became interested in ways to bring science to others in the form of science outreach and communication. She was also particularly drawn to Dr. JiJi’s lab because of the science outreach program called CHIP, the Chemistry Immersion Program. It was a way for Dr. Zare to continue with chemistry and also explore the science outreach endeavors that she had come to love, reaching beyond the lab to bring science to the public. Beginning in 2014, Dr. Zare worked with CHIP, a two-week program for high school teachers and students to learn about chemistry and biochemistry labs and techniques that are implemented on Mizzou’s campus.
When she first started working with science outreach, she was under the impression that it was something that was done as an extracurricular, on the periphery of her research and career. But that all changed when she was introduced to Dr. Susan Renoe and the Broader Impacts Network. There, she was able to gain insight into the world of science outreach as a career, and once she got a taste, she was hooked.
Now, Dr. Zare is dedicated to training the next generation of scientists to think globally. She believes science communication is essential, because scientists must be able to communicate their work to the world around them. She considered herself lucky to have had a supportive advisor who encouraged her to venture into science outreach. Additionally, Dr. Renoe showed her that there was a way to combine her love of science with her passion for human learning and interaction, merging her science and social skills through her work with broader impacts.
After graduating from MU with a PhD in Chemistry this past August, Dr. Zare is now utilizing her love of science and passion for curiosity to foster the next generation of scientists. She currently works for the Office of Engineering Outreach Programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There, she serves as the Program Coordinator for the Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery (SEED) Academy. The SEED Academy is a local outreach program which focuses on 7th through 12th grade students that are underserved and underrepresented in science, specifically engineering. The program, which serves Boston and a few surrounding areas, focuses on student exposure and emersion into different engineering topics. It fosters intellectual curiosity.
She is especially impressed with the students themselves. Participating in this program requires each one to give up Saturday in order to attend another day of school, but they love it. She gushes about her students, stressing their intelligence, dedication, and immersion in the project, viewing SEED as a hopeful situation for underserved and unrepresented students to have an avenue to investigate science and engineering.
Dr. Zare credits Mizzou and her work with The Connector for the preparation and insight into academia that was necessary for her to succeed in a science outreach career. Today, she draws on a “looking ahead” mentality learned at Mizzou, and that she also sees in her new home at MIT. Dr. Zare says that it is not enough to do something and do it well, but you must look ahead to what something could grow into. For her work with the SEED Academy, Dr. Zare and the other teachers build lasting relationships with the students. They believe it is not enough to impact them only when they are in the classroom, but to create a long-term investment in their education and advancement.