Dr Mary Familari
What are your research interests/background?
I was very fortunate to observe a leading developmental biologist, Prof. Alan Wolffe, fertilize frog eggs using small pieces of frog testis, with as much joy and enthusiasm, as he had the first-time he fertilized eggs, around 15 years before. Alan carefully explained how and why, the one cell fertilized eggs were rotating in the dish to expose their grey crescents. I was hooked. And I have never tired of seeing this event, or any embryo undergo changes. I am fascinated by animal embryos from fly to human. How mammalian organs form, and how the human placenta forms and is affected by air pollution, are specific interests but anything to do with animal embryos is captivating.
What attracted you to teaching?
Funnily enough, when I was about 12 years old, younger members of my family were subjected to my teaching efforts. My pupils were 3 and 4. By the time they started school, my first pupils could read, write and count to 100, and could act and draw their favourite characters from stories. I continue to teach today because of the immense delight I continue to feel, and first felt whenever the little faces of my first pupils conveyed, they ‘got it’.
Why is it important to educate students on interdisciplinary topics such as stem cells and emerging technologies?
I worked with, and became captivated by, mouse embryonic stem cells as a Fogarty Fellow, during my post-doctoral studies at NIH, USA. One of the big questions the field of stem cells today is why these quiescent cells residing within a tissue, surrounded by a sea of multitudinous factors, consistently remain unaffected until needed; this has huge implications for all aspects of health, disease and cell transplantation studies. One way to tackle this question is to explore both broad knowledge and tools, available from all scientific disciplines, while keeping a very open mind because this field has turned dogma on its head, several times already. Think iPS cells!
How would you describe your approach to teaching?
According to Richard Dawkins, the human brain is the most complex entity in the universe, and has a seemingly endless capacity for creativity. Teaching, at any level of education, in my view, is about encouraging in students, their inherent curiosity, and interest in thinking and learning. The students are very capable of taking care of the rest.
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