Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Seattle Woman Scientist Wins MacArthur Award

As reported in both the Times and the PI, two local scientists have won MacArthur Fellowships which grant them $500,000 each with no strings attached. The winners are

"Mark Roth is a biologist for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, whose studies of suspended animation hold out hope of new treatments for trauma, heart attack or stroke.

Yoky Matsuoka combines robotics with the study of neurology at the University of Washington to devise prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by thoughts alone."

I mention Yoky (who is part of the faculty in my husband's department at UW, Computer Science and Engineering) because she's a great example of a person in science who isn't a nerd or a geek. (Not that being a nerd or geek is a bad thing; look at Bill Gates.) But Yoky is great example for girls who wonder about being a scientist. From the article:

"The MacArthur Foundation official who notifies genius-award winners issues a standard warning when the unsuspecting recipients pick up the phone: "I've got shocking news," he says. "If you're holding anything fragile — like a baby — you might want to set it down."

Matsuoka was.

"He told me I was the very first one in 20 years who actually was holding a baby," said the University of Washington robotics expert, who was nursing her 8-day-old son when the call came.

Matsuoka may also be one of the few jocks to receive the coveted — and intimidating — award.

"I in no way feel I am a genius," said the former tennis fanatic, once ranked 21st in her native Japan."

And why did she get interested in robotics?

"Matsuoka gave up her dreams of becoming a tennis pro after breaking her ankle for the third time. In search of an alternative career, she visited the robotics lab at the University of California, Berkeley, and announced she wanted to build a tennis-playing robot.

She soon realized that was a naive dream. But instead of giving up, she began delving into human anatomy and neurology to understand how impulses in the brain are translated into motion."

She wasn't interested in solving big problems - she wanted someone to play tennis with at her exact level.

Yoky not only has a newborn, she and her husband are also parents to 2 1/2 year old twins.

I'm sure she has plenty of challenges in her life but she didn't give up her dreams or her curiosity and her research may likely someday make a difference for stroke victims or victims of war.

Tell your daughters (and sons) to dream big and let their imaginations soar.


Anonymous said...

Mark Roth is also a huge inspiration. I caught the tail-end of a segment on him this AM on KUOW. He spent much of his childhood living in an orphanage, and hopes that winning the prize, along with his overall success, shows kids that they can acheive big things no matter where they are starting out from.

I knew both Mark and his wife Laurie through our son's previous school, where our son and their son were classmates. Both Mark and his wife are really down-to-earth, good people - I'm so thrilled for him that he received this recognition.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thanks for sharing that info, Denise. Another great story about success not being limited to those who have the wind to their backs.