Can a 17-year-old bioengineer living cells? Meet Samantha Marquez
When she was 3 years old, Marquez was fascinated by bugs and insects, and began peppering her father, Manuel, with questions about how some insects are capable of walking along the surface of water.
Marquez’s mother, Carolina, also nurtured the child’s curiosity on long walks in the woods, during which they’d discuss topics such as nature, religion or cooking.
“I found myself having conversations with Samantha that I never imagined having with such a small child,” she recalled. “It was a lot of fun being able to connect with her on that level.”
Perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising, then, that at an age when many of her peers were more interested in the latest boy band or fashion trend, Samantha Marquez began connecting with a network of mentors in the local science community.
She was 12 years old and a seventh-grade student at Robious Middle when she launched a research project into human cells. That led to a series of high-level collaborations with scientists at Harvard, Texas A&M, Georgia Tech and Arizona State University.
Now 17 and a senior at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, Marquez was still in middle school when she developed the Celloidosome, a three-dimensional hollow structure composed of living cells.
Her research has focused on demonstrating the versatility of the Celloidosome in applications from liver repair and reconstruction to neural tissue transplantation. She holds multiple trademarks and is listed as co-inventor on seven patent applications.
Last year, she received the first place award in research at the International Space Olympics competition, held in Korolyov, Russia.
Earlier this year, she won her third consecutive first place award in Engineering: Materials and Bioengineering at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
During a Sept. 28 ceremony in Washington, Marquez will receive her most prestigious honor yet. She’ll be recognized as one of two 2013 Davidson Fellow Laureates, an award that comes with a $50,000 college scholarship.
The Nevada-based Davidson Institute for Talent Development hosts an annual scholarship program for students (ages 18 and younger) who have created projects with the potential to benefit society in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, literature, philosophy and music.
Marquez, who was informed of her selection last month, described her reaction as “this kind of surreal, jumping up and down excitement.
“It was a very nice surprise,” she said. “Just having the opportunity to have these collaborations and do research has been incredible for me. I’ve been very lucky to have wonderful mentors. Winning was like the bonus question.”
Given Marquez’s interest in cells, it would be natural to suggest that her pursuit of a career in science was genetically preordained. Her father is a chemist. Her mother is a chemical engineer.
Not so, insisted Manuel Marquez.
He and his wife merely emphasized to both of their daughters – Samantha’s little sister, Michelle, is a freshman in the Math and Science High School at Clover Hill – the need to do their best in whatever field they choose.
“We’ve encouraged them to question, challenge, have their own opinion and stand up for what they believe,” he said. “We told them if they put all of their love and passion into it, they can go one step further than anybody.”
In addition to her research, Marquez has channeled her love for learning and exploration into varied pursuits that don’t have much, if anything, to do with science.
She’s certified as a scuba diver. She’s fluent in Spanish and is taking her third year of Mandarin Chinese. She also studies magic and illusions as a hobby.
But her greatest passion is for giving back to the community and serving as a role model for other aspiring scientists.
Marquez, the first Hispanic ever selected as a Davidson Fellow Laureate, also takes seriously the responsibility to help other girls shatter the stereotype that math and science fields should be reserved for boys.
She’s preparing to launch a program, “Raising Science to the Girl Power,” that will connect with other programs devoted to providing opportunities for girls in science.
“What I’m proudest of is what I’ve been able to do with the visibility that has come from my research – to go back into the community and help others,” Marquez said. “When you’re inspired by somebody, it’s up to you to become that inspiration for others.”