Everyday I journey to a hidden world so tiny that it canít be seen by the naked eye. My adventure is only made possible through the use of a microscope, which has the ability to magnify the smallest things on the planet. I am a microbiologist. Biology is the study of life, and microbiology is the study of incredibly tiny, or microscopic, life. I study microbes, which are bacteria, viruses, and fungi. All of these microbes are important for life, as they keep us healthy as well as provide food. They also can be harmfulósome cause disease such as tuberculosis, AIDS, and cancer. Microbes are all around us, even on our body. Your body has roughly one trillion microbes on it at any given time. There are so many different kinds of microbes that it might take forever to discover them all. The microscopic world was discovered in the 1600s, and in the last three hundred years, only one percent of the planetís microbes have been identified and studied.
As a member of the Navajo (Dinť) nation, I am one of the few Native American scientists with a Ph.D. in microbiology. Since there isnít a very large population of Native Americans working in this field, sometimes it can feel close in proportion to the small percent of discovered microbes. Just like microbes, Native Americans might be hard to find in the sciences, but we are definitely here. I encourage all Native American children to take an active interest in science, because it can be very rewarding. The research I do as a microbiologist can heal the sick and save peopleís lives. The discoveries we make enable us to create medicines that can cure people when theyíre sick. So, the next time youíre feeling under the weather and take medication, youíll know that it takes a lot of scientists, and a lot of microscopes, to make you feel better!
I wasnít always interested in microbiology. Initially I wanted to become a veterinarian. Growing up on the Navajo reservation in Utah, my father and I enjoyed riding horses together on the weekends. During the week I was usually busy with school and my father worked three shifts at his job with the oil company, so riding horses was our way getting outside to relax. As my interest in horses increased, I began to compete in rodeo competitions on and off the reservation. I wasnít that good, so fortunately I decided to attend college at Colorado State University, were I went into the pre-veterinarian program, which is basically biology. I hoped to work with animals but as I learned more about the different disciplines of science I began to take an interest in microbiology, due mainly to a microbiology professor. I discovered that there was an incredible hidden microscopic world I never knew of and it fascinated me. I still take pleasure in riding horses but instead of riding with my father, my wife and I go out to enjoy our free time.
When I was a kid, my father would always lecture me on the importance of school. When he would start on the subject I usually sighed and said to myself, ďhere we go again.Ē But if he hadnít kept encouraging me, I might have never have continued on to college and found my true calling. After years of hard work, I am now a professor at Oklahoma State University. My position enables me to be active with the things that Iím very passionate about, such as education and science. Currently at my university Iím in charge of the Native American Faculty and Staff Association. This organization focuses on the importance of education by supporting and encouraging Native American students in school. My hope is that Native Americans begin to have a stronger presence in the sciences. More scientists can make a difference in the world, but having a larger Native American community in science could also expand opportunities, and bring different perspectives into both research and medicine. With hard work, this goal is possible, and then the sky is the limit.