Quad fellow Utana Umezaki finds international collegiality and STEM advocates alike.
By Mike Williams
Putting her best foot forward isn’t just a way to help her own career in chemistry. Utana Umezaki advocates for all women in STEM fields. As one of two Rice students named last year to take part in the prestigious Quad Fellowship program, a collaboration between the United States, Australia, India and Umezaki’s native Japan, she now has an international audience.
The fifth-year graduate student in the Rice lab of chemistry chair Angel Martí-Arbona was selected for the program along with Sathvik Ajay Iyengar, a graduate student in the lab of materials scientist Pulickel Ajayan. This summer, Umezaki spent a week in Melbourne, Australia, with nearly all the 100 students in the 2023 cohort.
In Melbourne, Umezaki connected with other students who investigate Alzheimer’s and the amyloid beta proteins that aggregate in patients, a prime suspect in the disease and her focus in Martí-Arbona’s lab. “There aren’t many chemistry students in the 2023 Quad cohort, but there are a lot of neuroscience people,” she says. “Alzheimer’s is related to the brain, so we could talk about amyloid beta from the chemistry and neuroscience perspectives. That was very helpful.”
Because the fellowship is unique, with citizens from four countries, I could talk about the problems for women in STEM fields in each, and each has a different situation for sure.
Umezaki first came to Rice from Japan in 2018 for the TOMODACHI-STEM research internship program for female undergraduates. Later she became the program’s graduate assistant. After finishing her graduate program at Rice, she plans to take on a postdoctoral position in the United States. “There are a couple of papers coming, one on methodology and one on amyloid beta, and hopefully I can submit them by the end of the year,” she says.
Umezaki says the Quad Fellowship will host virtual programs over the next few months, focusing on how to utilize STEM expertise for social good. She hopes the fellowship will lead to collaborations, especially with women of like mind from all the participating countries.
“More than 50% of the Quad cohort are female, so that helped,” Umezaki says. “Because the fellowship is unique, with citizens from four countries, I could talk about the problems for women in STEM fields in each, and each has a different situation for sure.
“There are a lot of female scientists who are now changing the world,” she adds. “It was encouraging for me to see such persons in Australia.”
Angel Martí-Arbona is chemistry chair and professor of chemistry, bioengineering, and materials science and nanoengineering.
Pulickel Ajayan is chair of materials science and nanoengineering, the Benjamin M. and Mary Greenwood Anderson Professor in Engineering, and professor of materials science and nanoengineering, chemistry, and chemical and biomolecular engineering.