When she was just 4 years old, Dr. Ainissa Ramirez knew she wanted to be a scientist, inspired by an African American girl on the PBS science show “3-2-1 Contact.”
She didn’t know any scientists personally, and none lived in her working-class New Jersey neighborhood. Still, she held a deep love of learning and was in the library every day after school.
“Being exposed to new people and new ideas gives you an opportunity to find out more about yourself, about what you like and what you don’t like,” she wrote in a TED-Ed Blog post. “Seek out role models, and follow that path until a better one presents itself.”
Ramirez will present the Freeman Lecture during the 2016 Honors Institute, June 20-25 at Wake Forest University. The Freeman Lecture is sponsored by Drs. Joyce and Janice Freeman, Phi Theta Kappa alumni who currently serve on the Phi Theta Kappa Foundation Board of Trustees.
Ramirez studied materials science and engineering at Brown University and then received her Ph.D. from Stanford University. She conducted award-winning research at Bell Laboratories, Lucent Technologies, in Murray Hill, New Jersey, before joining the faculty at Yale University as an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science.
In her time at Yale, she directed the award-winning science lecture series for children called Science Saturdays and hosted two popular-science video series called Material Marvels and Science Xplained.
MIT’s Technology Review magazine named Ramirez one of the world’s 100 Top Young Innovators for her contributions to transforming technology. She has written more than 50 technical papers, she holds six patents, and she has presented her work worldwide. She co-authored Newton’s Football: The Science Behind America’s Game and authored Save Our Science: How to Inspire a New Generation of Scientists.
Ramirez now works as a science evangelist committed to improving the public’s understanding of science. She gave an impassioned TED Talk in 2012 that called for science education to be reformed — rather than memorization, we should be teaching children to solve problems and think for themselves, she argued.
“Children need to explore and to discover,” she said in the talk. “This is how you innovate; you fail your way to your answer.
“Scientists fail all the time; we just brand it differently. We call it ‘data.’ ”
Read more about Ramirez in this Q&A on the TED blog.