Celebrating Asians in STEM

Author: Taiha Begum

Pakistani activist, Malala Yousafzi once said, “I speak not for myself, but so those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights. Their right to live in peace. Their right to be treated with dignity. Their right to equality of opportunity. Their right to be educated.” 

This quote resonates with me because throughout history, in nations all over the world, the idea of minority groups such as people of color, women, or those of lower status economically, receiving higher education has been deemed as a threat by the norms built by the superior group. But history has also shown us all of the outliers. Those who were indoctrinated into this way of thinking, like Yousafzi, still chose to think for themselves and go against the grain. 

It was taught for generations that if the weaker came to power, then society as we know it would collapse. The thought of those who were stripped from their rights as human beings for centuries, and to this day are still deprived of their freedom, was labeled as, “dangerous,” “threatening,” or even “psycho.” This sort of mentality was more common in the STEM field than the rest. The minorities were given fewer opportunities and more restrictions than other individuals in order to prevent their success and to ensure no traces of their legacy is left behind in the STEM industry. People in STEM have to be able to think outside of the box. Our ancestors were able to do just that, and proved that societal norms were nothing more than just words on a piece of paper. Now, it is our responsibility as the next generation to decipher how to incorporate anecdotes from history into the world of STEM. 

Despite these obstacles, our ancestors paved the way for the future generations to walk on. So that we may get to the point that they were only allowed to dream of. We often take the accomplishments and achievements of those that came before us for granted. As we work towards our goals it is important to be able to rise above the harsh words of society and let the sacrifices of our ancestors motivate us to keep pushing forward. 

As an Asian in STEM, I remind myself of some of the most brilliant Asians in the history of STEM and how they made it possible for me to stand where I do today. While many women are intimidated by the challenges that will face them, should they choose to pursue a career in STEM, others look the obstacles in the eye, and use it to their advantage in order to become stronger people and accomplish their goals and more in the process. My role at ASA has allowed me to be surrounded by such women and has provided me with the courage and confidence I needed to push myself to the point I am at today.  It is important for the new generation to occasionally retrace back to their roots and soak in the personas of the older generation to move forward. Below are some of those people who were able to move beyond the traditional societal norms to make a name for themselves in the field of STEM. They did what no one thought they could do. They thought outside the box. They made changes and contributions to society. In medicine, nuclear technology, and engineering, the list goes on. Some of those accomplishments, and their creators are highlighted in the following paragraphs. 

Sanghamitra Bandyopadhyay is an Indian computer scientist specializing in computational biology. She is currently a professor at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. Throughout her life she has won awards such as the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize winner in Engineering Science in 2010 and the Infosys Prize in the 2017 laureate for the Engineering and Computer Science category. Many of her awards were for her research in algorithmic optimization, which has led to the discovery of a genetic marker for breast cancer and the role of white blood cells in Alzheimer’s disease. 

Dr. Lucille V. Abad is a scientist with a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering and Management from the University of Tokyo. She is an innovator, famous in the chemistry industry. With her passion and devotion towards her profession, she and her research team were able to produce Radiation – Modified Carrageenan as Plant Food Supplement which have proven their effectiveness drastically. On International Women’s Day 2018, the Filipina scientist was named one of the Asian Scientist 100 honorees for 2018. In 2017, Abad’s team was awarded the, Excellent Research Team of the Year by the Forum for Nuclear Cooperation in Asia (FNCA) for developing the Plant Food Supplement (PFS) that exemplifies peaceful use of nuclear technology. Many see her as a great role model for female leaders in STEM. 

Tetsuya Theodore Fujita aka Mr. Tornado, was a Japanese-American meteorologist whose research primarily focused on severe weather. Although he is best known for creating the Fujita scale of tornado intensity and damage, he also discovered downbursts and microbursts, and was an instrumental figure in advancing modern understanding of many severe weather phenomena; including how they affect people and communities. He illustrated this through his work exploring the relationship between wind speed and damage. Fujita was also largely involved in developing the concept of multiple vortex tornadoes, which feature multiple small funnels (suction vortices) rotating within a larger parent cloud. His work established that, far from being rare events as was previously believed, most powerful tornadoes were composed of multiple vortices. A Tribute to the Work of T. Theodore Fujita during its 80th Annual Meeting in January 2000, Storm Track magazine released a special November 1998 issue, “A Tribute To Dr. Ted Fujita” and Weatherwise published “Mr. Tornado: The life and career of Ted Fujita” as an article in its May/June 1999 issue. He was the subject of Mr. Tornado, a documentary film that originally aired on PBS American Experience on May 19, 2020.

Sanghamitra Bandyopadhyay, Dr. Lucille V. Abad, and Tetsuya Theodore Fujita, are all examples of the leading minds in the STEM industry. But not only did they pave the way for the world of mathematics and science, they also left their legacy behind for the future leaders. It is our responsibility as the younger generation to live up to the standards the older generation set. We must learn to live past the discrimination, stereotypes, and racism, and accomplish what we set out to do. We must overcome these obstacles as we are the guiding light for the future. To learn about some of the greatest Asian minds in STEM click here.

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