Dr. Karen Magnus - Biophysicist
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Would you believe me if I told you there were stars in your blood, shells in your teeth, and rain in your stomach? Our bodies are made up of the same elements that are found in the earth. Iron, which is found in everything from stars to rocks, is a key ingredient in our blood. Shells are made from calcium which is also what our teeth and bones are made of. And water, which is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen elements is found just about everywhere in our bodies, from our stomachs and blood to our skin and eyes. In fact, we are 98% water!

You can also look to the earthís elements to see where the colors of our body come from. For example, both shells and teeth are white. When iron is in the form of a metal it is often silver or gray, but when iron is found in rocks like in Las Vegas , Arizona, and Utah† it can be red and orange. Like in the rocks, the presence of iron in our blood makes it red.

But did you know that not all animals have red blood? In my work as a research scientist at the Duke University Marine Laboratory , I work with animals that have blue blood! These animals are part of the larger family of arthropods , which include crabs, shrimp, spiders, snails and scorpions. Instead of having iron in their blood, they have copper, and the copper is what makes the blood blue.

Growing up a huge fan of science fiction novels, I never dreamed that animals on earth could be as exciting as the aliens I read about. My early interest in science fiction was partly responsible for my interest in science. I enjoyed reading about the possibility of life on other planets and the effects that scientific discoveries could have on the future of our society and planet.

My parents also helped encourage my love of science They would often take my brother, sister and me to junior scientist meetings and to visit museums and power plants. Their support was particularly important because I grew up during the 1950s and 60s, a time when the idea that women were just around to get married and have kids was pretty common. My parents always made sure that I knew I could be and do anything I wanted.

It was exposure to science that led me to the University of California, Davis† where I majored in chemistry and biology. I entered college with the goal of becoming a physician. But during my sophomore year, I got a job in my professorís lab where I had the opportunity to work on my own experiment and I became hooked on research. I really liked the independence of lab work where I got to think of what to do and then do it! I then went to Johns Hopkins University† in Baltimore, Maryland where I received my Ph.D. in 1980.

Earning a Ph.D. has taught me that once you set your mind to something, you can do just about anything! Furthermore, through my education I have learned about persistence, planning ahead and taking little steps towards a larger goal. I have also learned about working well with people from all over the world. In my laboratory I have co-workers who come from Vietnam, China, Latin America, Europe and the United States!

Above all, science has taught me to expect the unexpected. From having pieces of the planet in our bodies and creatures with strange colored blood, science shows us that the world is just as exciting and complicated as it is in the world of fiction.

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