Meet a Scientist: Dr. Linda Peteanu and Vickie Bacon
Nov 14
2019

Meet a Scientist: Dr. Linda Peteanu and Vickie Bacon

By Dr. Maria Wheeler-Dubas, Research and Science Education Outreach Manager

All of the researchers featured on our monthly Meet a Scientist Saturdays have been trained through Phipps’ science communication workshops. If you are a young professional or graduate student in the sciences and you are interested in the workshop or participating in a Meet a Scientist Saturday, check out our website or email science education outreach manager Dr. Maria Wheeler-Dubas at mwheeler-dubas@phipps.conservatory.org.

This Saturday at Phipps, come meet local scientists Vickie Bacon, a student of public health genetics at the University of Pittsburgh, and Dr. Linda Peteanu, Professor and Department Head of the Chemistry Department at Carnegie Mellon University! Between the two of them, you can chat about the power of lights and lasers and how your genes helped to make you you. Stop by their table in the Tropical Forest Cuba from 1:30-3:30 pm this Saturday, November 16.

Introduce yourself in 5 sentences or less

Peteanu: I am a Professor of Chemistry and the Department Head at Carnegie Mellon University.  I run a group of young scientists who study diverse problems ranging from materials to produce energy efficient lighting to the properties of our genetic material (DNA/RNA) that codes for proteins in our bodies.  My work uses optics, lasers and microscopes to look at individual molecules, one by one. 

Bacon: My name is Vickie and I am a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh. I am studying Public Health Genetics and Genetic Counseling.  I am fascinated by genetics and want to make sure that everyone has access to genetics to improve their health.

What is the most exciting thing you’ve ever done at work?

Peteanu: I actually find it exciting to graduate a new B. A. or Ph. D. and have that person get the job of their dreams. 

Bacon: Right now I’m a student, so most of my time is spent learning from some amazing scientists. Hearing about research and scientific breakthroughs from the people who made them is really exciting to me. It’s like meeting the director of your favorite movie. It also reminds me that scientists are just people and we can all do great things if we put our minds to it.

Why did you become a scientist?

Peteanu: I have always been very curious and interested in experimentation.  I love being part of a wider community of scientists.

Bacon: As a kid, I used to work on cars with my dad. I loved learning how things worked, how to figure out what was wrong when they didn’t work, and how to fix it. I love science because I want to know how the world around us works. Learning about DNA is like reading an unfinished instruction manual for the human body. There is still so much we don’t know, and finding the missing pieces is incredibly exciting to me.

What skills do you use in your job?

Peteanu: Part of my job is administrative so I am learning skills in motivating others, management, negotiation, and sales that I need for interacting with faculty, my students, other administrators, and the student body at large.  Written and oral communication skills are very important in this context as well as in my scientific scholarship.  My fundamental science skills, which are the design of experiments and of equipment, are used constantly as well.

Bacon: It’s important to be attentive to detail and be able to write and communicate clearly. One of the most important things I’ve learned is to be comfortable asking questions. It’s perfectly okay to not know everything. If we already knew everything, science wouldn’t so fun! I talk to a lot of people who aren’t scientists about genetics and genetic research, so I need to be able to connect with people.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be?

Peteanu: I actually contemplated a major in economics and a career in consulting.  There is probably an aspect of that in my current job.  Car mechanic also sounded very attractive as I really love machinery!

Bacon: It’s hard to think of something I would be as passionate about as science since it’s all around us. We all use and do science every day; we are all scientists! If I were to have a job as something other than a scientist, I would still want to do something involving Public Health, possibly working with policy development or community outreach.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Peteanu: I actually like to do experiments myself when I can.  Otherwise, I love working with students in designing their experiments and troubleshooting them.  Organizing and supporting faculty in their pursuits can also be very rewarding. 

Bacon: I love talking to people about genetics, both people in and out of the field. Everyone has a story and it’s great when people choose to share those with me. I think it’s important that everyone have access to genetics and hearing people’s stories reminds me why I study the things I do.


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