Scientist Spotlight: Sophia Ewens

IMG-20170725-WA0007 - Sophia Ewens August 2017 Spotlight: Sophia Ewens

CLEAR Member? I’m a current and relatively new member of CLEAR.

What do you do? I am a graduate student researching new ways to make renewable fuels and plastics from bacteria.

Where did you grow up? I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin: River Falls.

What was your favorite class ever and why? My favorite class ever was my high school art class with Mr. Davis – I have always loved to paint, and this was one of the few classes I would always get to early and leave late.

When did you decide to pursue microbiology? I never had a distinct “Aha!” moment where I suddenly knew to pursue my field of study – I am in my current field because of a series of smaller decisions that happened over many years. First, I decided science is pretty cool. Later, I learned about climate change and decided I wanted to do something about it. Then I found out microbes are super fascinating AND they can be a natural way to clean up pollution and make alternative fuels. Voila! So here I am, studying microbiology in an effort to help our environment.

What did you do between undergrad and grad school? I only took a summer off between undergrad and grad school – but during that summer I traveled to Croatia with my closest friend from college, visited my family back in Wisconsin, and spent a week on Lake Superior with my now-fiance.

What do you hope to do after you leave grad school? I’m not sure yet, what I want to do after grad school. I really like to teach, and I also really want to continue working on projects that help to combat climate change, conserve resources, or fight pollution. I feel like I could do both of these things as a professor, but there are very few positions open for new professors – so I am trying to consider other options that are less scarce. I’m only beginning my second year in grad school, though, so I have plenty of time to think!

Describe your favorite lab story. There are so many funny stories from lab, but this is the first that comes to mind: I was in a new lab, so I was trying to make a good impression, but I also didn’t know where anything was. On this particular day, I was looking for a Pipetman (which is an electronic tool that helps us transfer liquids, and makes a buzzing sound). I could not for the life of me remember the name, so I shyly asked our lab manager where the “machine is that goes ‘bzzz bzzz’ ” while I pretended to use the invisible tool in my hand. She laughed so hard before showing me where it was – and then kindly made fun of me for a good week for not remembering the name of a pretty basic tool. There were no hard feelings at all, but I was sufficiently embarrassed – so much for seeming smart to my new co-workers!

How do you prefer to spend your time outside of the lab? I try to get outside as much as I can – especially if it is on a board! I windsurf whenever there is good wind, snowboard in the winter, and skateboard when the other two aren’t an option. I also love rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking, and scuba diving. Honestly, just get me outside with a little adrenaline rush and I’ll be smiling. But if I’m feeling lazier, then I could spend days behind a canvas, painting.

If you didn’t have to spend all day in lab, which passion would you pursue? I would pursue art, full time, for sure. I’ve actually dreamed of starting an art campaign, or gallery show, that portrays the effects of pollution and climate change on different locations around the world. Art speaks to people’s emotions in a way that can be more powerful than facts, and I would hope that my dream gallery could lift apathy and inspire people to care about global issues like climate change.


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