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As a biomedical researcher, Kimberly Beatty, PhD, is doing more than making medical breakthroughs; she’s also breaking down barriers for young girls who aspire to follow in her footsteps.

Growing up in Walnut Creek, California, Beatty was lucky — she had great teachers who encouraged her to pursue her passion for science. (Not all girls are so fortunate; statistically, interest in science and math drops off dramatically for girls by the time they hit middle school.)

During her work as an undergraduate student at University of California, Santa Barbara, Beatty got her first taste of research while studying the directed evolution of an enzyme. “That was notable, because it’s the same subject that was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2018,” she said.

After receiving her doctorate in chemistry at Caltech, Beatty worked at University of California, Berkeley, before being invited to join the Knight Cancer Institute in 2012. It was an easy decision to make, although she admits that the climate took a little getting used to.

“That first year in Portland, I think it rained nine months straight,” she laughed.

At the Knight Cancer Institute, Beatty’s work focuses on visualizing cancer at the molecular level using chemical probes. “We’re trying to figure out how we can use chemistry to light up the biology inside cells and tag proteins that are associated with disease,” she explained.

“Kids think that research is a solitary pursuit done by an old guy in a stinky basement lab, but it isn’t. It’s fun and exciting and something we get to do as a community.”

This could lead to a better understanding of why some patients develop drug resistance and help develop new treatments that cancer cells won’t be able to evade.

Beatty said one of the best parts of her job is mentoring the grad students that she works with. She also regularly invites high school students to get a feel for life in the lab. “I didn’t get those kinds of opportunities until later in my education,” she explained. “So I want to give them to younger students whenever I can.”

That generous spirit extends outside the lab as well. Beatty volunteers for a local chapter of STEM Like a Girl, where she leads projects to help girls get excited about careers in science, technology, engineering and math. One of the most recent projects she led? Making fizzy bath bombs. “It’s all acid-base chemistry,” she smiled.

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