Women of Science


Here is a sampling of the CUNY female scientists spotlighted in the University's campaign to inform women students - and other - about their pioneering work. Clockwise from top left: Vicki Flaris, assistant professor of chemistry, Bronx Community College; Maribel Vazquez, associate professor of biomedical engineering, City College; Mandë Holford, assistant professor of chemistry, York College and the CUNY Graduate Center; Lesley Davenport, professor of chemistry, Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.

When Lesley Davenport examines the knot-like structures in DNA at the ends of chromosomes, she sees a potential weapon against cancer. In the toxic venom of marine organisms, Mandë Holford sees future disease-fighting drugs. And Myriam Sarachik, known for years of work in condensed matter physics, continues to break ground, studying molecular nano-magnets and two-dimensional electron systems.


Explore the pioneering work of Davenport, Holford, Sarachik and the many other women scientists striving for and making breakthrough discoveries in CUNY labs, and glimpse the future. These chemists, physicists, biologists and other scientists include the world-renowned and those just beginning their brilliant careers. Nearly a half-century ago when Sarachik, of City College, was starting hers, science overwhelmingly was the province of men and rife with old-school attitudes about women's suitability and competence. To see CUNY's glowing - and growing - roster of distinguished female researchers is to know how far we've come.

The inspiration they provide to the University, with its 60 percent female student body, is clear. In an effort to spread the word about these faculty members and their ongoing, important work in labs and with accomplished students year-round at all CUNY colleges, the University is spotlighting its women scientists on its web pages and on posters headlined "Breaking Boundaries in Science Research."

"Distinguished women scientists are breaking boundaries at The City University of New York with pioneering research in fields that are critical to our nation's future," said Chancellor Matthew Goldstein. "Through CUNY's 'Decade of Science,' they are teaching and working with outstanding students in applied and basic science.

"The University is committed to serious research and to giving research-oriented students the opportunity to study and work with world-class faculty," the Chancellor said.

Marie Filbin, distinguished professor of biological sciences and director of the Specialized Neuroscience Research Program at Hunter College, investigates the role of myelin and the myelin protein MAG in preventing axonal regeneration after injury, and she devises molecular approaches to overcoming these inhibitors, with an eye on spinal cord injuries and regeneration. Also at Hunter, Maria Figueiredo-Pereira, a biology professor, studies the causes of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, and Nancy Greenbaum, a chemist, attempts to answer questions about how RNA molecules fold and interact with other RNA, metal ions, and proteins in order to carry out the complex activity of precursor messenger (pre-m) RNA splicing. Jill Bargonetti, Hunter professor of biological sciences, and her lab group are working to determine if DNA damage caused by various chemotherapeutic drugs can bring about differential activation of the p53 target genes as well as activate alternative cell death pathways, critical to cancer research.

Lesley Davenport, Brooklyn College chemistry professor and executive officer of the biochemistry doctoral program at the Graduate Center and director of Brooklyn's Center for Fluorescence Spectroscopy, uses state-of-the-art fluorescence spectroscopic equipment to study knot-like structures - "quadruplexes" - that may form in the telomeric DNA at the ends of chromosomes. Because quadruplexes inhibit the enzyme telomerase - which can trigger cancer - Davenport hopes her research into how these structures fold will lead to drugs that will "lock" them in cancer patients, stopping the disease's progression.

Ruth Stark, distinguished professor of chemistry and director of the CUNY Institute for Macromolecular Assemblies at City College, uses magnetic resonance methods to analyze tiny structures that operate within cells, such as the pigment melanin, which can develop in certain fungi. Melanin protects fungi, just as it colors and protects human skin. It also can make them virulent, a worry for AIDS patients with fungal infections. Stark is currently studying how fungi create melanin from amino acid derivatives and how melanin attaches itself to fungal cell walls. Associate professor Christine Li, a neurobiologist also at City, studies communication between cells in the nervous system, and is investigating genes implicated in neurodegenerative disorders.

Mandë Holford, an assistant professor with appointments at York College, the Graduate Center and the American Museum of Natural History, is reconstructing the evolutionary history of marine gastropods such as cone snails, and analyzing their toxins as biochemical tools for characterizing cellular communication in the nervous system, and as potential drug development targets.

And Neepa Maitra, an associate professor of physics at Hunter College with a background in theoretical chemical physics, examines time-dependent density functional theory (TDDFT), a method used to describe electronic dynamics in atomic, molecular and chemical systems and solids. TDDFT has been applied to expanded areas in condensed matter physics, quantum chemistry and quantum physics.

To view a fuller list of CUNY's Women in Science, visit the University's Decade of Science web page at http://www.cuny.edu/site/science.html and click the Women in Science link.