Cells in Space: Biologist Anicca Harriot curates RealScientists

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Anicca Harriot (@13adh13) is currently working on her PhD in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Her research focuses on mechanotransduction – the science of how mechanical stresses and physical forces, like gravity, affect cell signaling and function. Anicca plans to use her degree to explore the effects of long duration space missions on the human body and hopes to someday venture out into the final frontier for herself. Anicca is also the Social Media Coordinator & LGBTQ+ Engagement Specialist for #VanguardSTEM: Conversations for Women of Color in STEM, a non-profit dedicated to lifting the voices of women and non-binary people of color in STEM. In her free time Anicca volunteers with #Popscope, “popping up” with a telescope around Baltimore to promote public astronomy and encourage curiosity.

How did you end up in science?
I fell in love with science in the fourth grade. At the time I told my parents I wanted to be a cardiovascular surgeon and an astronaut. I remember my father telling me that maybe some day I could study the heart in space. From there I dove in head first, spending summers in STEM programs, interning in labs, attending STEM magnet school programs. Now, 13 years later I study how muscle changes during space missions.

How did you get into mechanotransduction?
I chose my field because I felt like it was something that I could never tire of studying. I had so many mentors and opportunities to work in STEM from a very young age and these experiences helped to solidify my passion for biochemistry. More than anything I am consistently amazed by the intricacies of how the body functions at a molecular level and I feel fortunate to merge those concepts with an understanding of the vastness of our universe.

How does your work tie into space exploration?
One aspect of my research that I always try to emphasize is that being able to better understand and characterize changes in muscle and bone during long duration space missions I am also able to better understand disease pathologies in osteoporosis, muscular dystrophy, and a host of other disorders. People often think that studying space biosciences means that my research is less applicable to the general population, but that definitely is not the case.

What do you do when you aren’t working on your PhD?
Outside of my academic life, advocacy and public education are incredibly important to me. I am the social media coordinator and LGBTQ+ engagement specialist for an organization called #VanguardSTEM: Conversations for Women of Color in STEM. Through #VanguardSTEM I am afforded the opportunity to lift the voices of marginalized communities.

I also volunteer with an organization called #Popscope; there are chapters in 8 cities along the east coast in the US and Canada. Our goal is to put a telescope in every neighborhood. At it’s crux is the concept of simply “popping up” on street corners or in parks with a telescope and sharing the night sky with passers by. In the Baltimore chapter we partner with local libraries, schools, museums, and other publicly funded places to teach astronomy, promote community, and encourage curiosity.

In my free time I love to cook! I love attempting to recreate dishes I’ve seen on culinary shows and competitions. I enjoy reading poetry whenever I can. I have also played instruments throughout my entire life, between violin and guitar I’ve always had a bit of an escape from science.

My ideal day off is definitely one spent with family or friends. I’m relatively new to Baltimore so on days off I am often exploring the city with friends. Because I live about an hour from the city where I grew up, I try to visit my parents and siblings as frequently as possible. I have a very young brother and there’s nothing better than spending time with him and getting to watch him discover the world around him.

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