Thayumanvan Lab Celebrates Six Successful Women Graduates

From left: Oyuntuya Munkhbat, professor Thayumanvan, Celia Homyak, Youngju Bae, Molly Gordon, Priyaa Prasad and Poornima Rangadurai.
From left: Oyuntuya Munkhbat, professor Thayumanvan, Celia Homyak, Youngju Bae, Molly Gordon, Priyaa Prasad and Poornima Rangadurai.

Research institutions still have a long way to go in retaining women in STEM fields, and particularly in the physical sciences, says Sankaran “Thai” Thayumanavan, but this month his chemistry lab celebrated a success as he escorted six women receiving their advanced degrees at Graduate Commencement on May 11. He says, “It didn’t dawn on me until we were there at the ceremony, but suddenly I realized ‘Wow!’ We have done something really amazing here. I hooded six women scientists that day, and they have all gone on to find good positions in the physical sciences. That doesn’t happen very often.”

Oyuntuya Munkhbat is from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, and did her undergraduate and master’s degree work on synthetic polymers and dendrimers at Bogazici University in Istanbul. An organic/polymer chemist and nanoparticle formulation scientist, she develops and synthesizes self-assembling supramolecular systems for targeted drug delivery, bio-sensing and imaging, and now works as an analytical chemist for the biotechnology firm Berkshire Sterile Manufacturing in Lee.

Celia Homyak was raised on a farm in Paynesville, Minnesota, and earned her undergraduate degree at Winona State University. Her research in the Thayumanavan lab focused on formulating lipid and polymer nanomaterials for protein and small molecule delivery applications. She now works for Ripple Foods of Berkeley, California, which produces plant-based dairy products. NIH’s LabTV produced a profile of Homyak (named Frieler before her marriage) in which she reflects on how she came to her science career: www.labtv.com/Home/Profile?researcherId=2087

Youngju Bae is from a small town, Hamyang-Gun, South Korea, but she earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees at Kwangwoon University in Seoul. As an organic/polymeric material chemist, she works with light-harvesting materials for optoelectronic applications such as solar cells, and on light-responsive materials useful for signal amplification in biological applications. She is now a postdoctoral research fellow at UMass Lowell, where she works to improve the stability of hybrid organic/inorganic solar cells.

Mallory Molly Gordon is from Scarborough, Maine, and earned her undergraduate degree at Franklin and Marshall College. Her doctoral research focused on the development of nanoparticles for improved delivery of chemotherapeutic drugs. She is now a synthetic chemist at Anika Therapeutics Inc. in Bedford, where she is developing biomaterials for tissue regeneration, pain management and wound repair. NIH’s LabTV also produced a profile of Gordon: www.labtv.com/Home/Profile?researcherId=2088 

Priyaa Prasad is from Mumbai, India, where she earned her undergraduate B.Tech degree. She is the second daughter of the family to earn a Ph.D. in the chemistry department, after her sister, Gitanjeli, who now works at 3M. Her thesis focuses on nanocarriers for drug delivery. She is now a process engineer in the Etch division at Intel in Portland, Oregon. Her parents came to Amherst from India and her sister came from Minnesota for her graduation ceremony.

Poornima Rangadurai grew up in Chennai, India, the daughter of a chemistry professor, and did her undergraduate chemistry and master’s work at Stella Maris College there. Her work showing how to create a reversible, on-demand molecular control mechanism controlled by light was recently published in Nature Chemistry. She now is a technology development engineer for Intel in Hillsboro, Oregon.