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Women @ Energy: Rebecca Abergel

March 25, 2013 - 12:40pm

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Rebecca Abergel, Ph.D. is a Staff Scientist in the Chemical Sciences Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Rebecca Abergel, Ph.D. is a Staff Scientist in the Chemical Sciences Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

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Rebecca Abergel, Ph.D. is a Staff Scientist in the Chemical Sciences Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Dr. Abergel’s research program is dedicated to the coordination chemistry of f-elements in different biological systems, with therapeutic and environmental applications such as chelation and bioremediation of toxic metals or development of antimicrobial strategies targeting metal-acquisition systems. She leads a large collaborative effort on the development of new drug products for the treatment of populations contaminated with radionuclides.  Dr. Abergel was raised near Paris, France and graduated from the École Normale Supérieure in 2002. As an undergraduate, she received a scholarship to pursue research in inorganic chemistry with Professor John Arnold at the University of California at Berkeley. She then conducted her graduate studies in bio-inorganic chemistry at UC Berkeley, under the supervision of Professor Kenneth Raymond. Her doctoral work focused on the synthesis and characterization of siderophore analogs to probe microbial iron transport systems and design new iron chelating agents. As a joined postdoctoral researcher between the UC Berkeley Chemistry Department and the group of Professor Roland Strong at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Rebecca investigated the bacteriostatic function of the innate immune protein siderocalin in binding siderophores from pathogenic microorganisms such as Bacillus anthracis, for the development of new antibiotics. Rebecca joined LBNL in 2009, she received a Young Investigator Award from the Cooley's Anemia Foundation in 2009 and a Junior Faculty Travel Award from the Radiation Research Society in 2013.

1) What inspires you to work in STEM?

My teachers played a large role in sparking my interest in science. By the time I finished High School, I was trained to always look around for a scientific explanation to the most basic phenomena . . . science is behind everything, from cake recipes to designing sports equipment or engineering electric cars.

2) What excites you about your work at the Energy Department/Berkeley Lab?

One particular goal of my research is to design and develop new therapeutic drugs for the decontamination of toxic metals in humans. It never ceases to amaze me to think that one day we may have a drug available, which will improve the life of people who suffers from metal overload or contamination. While most of my work is fundamental research and science-driven, the endpoint could have an enormous impact on everyday life. I think this is true to pretty much every project at Berkeley Lab. Knowing that I work for an institution that aims at improving life conditions is very fulfilling.

3)  How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

We need to change the vision that people have of scientists. Too often, when we ask younger children if they know a famous scientist, they refer to Albert Einstein, and envision an older man with a crazy hairstyle. Taking science classes in school should be considered as "cool and desirable" as being on the football team, and we can only change this perception by continuously disseminating and explaining what we can achieve with science and who is behind it.

4) Do you have tips you would recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?

The best advice I can give young people who wish to enter the science field is “don't give up.” Achieving a science degree can be daunting, but in the end, it is so rewarding. Other advice that keeps me going, even now: “You can always find scientific challenges that you will love working on and can relate to . . . choose them.”

5)  When you have free time, what are your hobbies?

I mostly spend my time playing and cuddling with my children . . . they are still young enough to enjoy hanging out with their parents! I love cooking, baking and eating; and I practice dancing - flamenco and salsa - with my husband as much as I can.

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