On the Daily: University alum announced as runner-up in “Hidden Figures” STEM competition

Tuesday, January 17, 2017 - 8:55pm

Last week, University of Michigan alum Midori Maeda was announced as one of ten runners-up from a pool of more than 7,000 applicants in PepsiCo and 21st Century Fox's "The Search for Hidden Figures" contest, which aims to recognize talented female researchers for their work in the STEM fields.

Maeda received a master's degree in macromolecular science and engineering from the University in December 2016. She wrote in an email interview that she is currently working in an Ann Arbor research lab with Biomedical Engineering Prof. Shuichi Takayama, as well as at a startup, where she creates artificial biomaterials to understand how to cure different diseases.

“I was very lucky to join Dr. Shuichi Takayama's research group,” Maeda wrote. “Here, I currently work on making artificial versions of biomaterials, such as neutrophil extracellular traps, to better understand their role in diseases and how to cure them. I am also working in a startup in Ann Arbor, called PHASIQ, developing new diagnostic tools.”

The contest was inspired by the recently released movie “Hidden Figures,” which depicts the careers of African-American female mathematicians Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. The women worked behind the scenes at NASA to provide computations to launch astronaut John Glenn into space as a part of the space race — a term describing the United States’s rivalry with the Soviet Union to get a man on the moon.

"We are honored to have the opportunity to share the story of Katherine Johnson and her peers whose contributions have remained hidden for too long," Lachlan Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, said in a press release. “At 21CF, we believe in the power of storytelling to inspire the next generation of talent to dream bigger and unlock their full potential, and through The Search for Hidden Figures contest we are excited to give young women across the country the encouragement to pursue those dreams."

“Hidden Figures” has outgrossed all other box office films since its Jan. 6 release and received praise from numerous critics for revealing the untold stories of Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson.

As a runner-up, Maeda will receive a free screening of “Hidden Figures” in her hometown, a membership to the New York Academy of Sciences and $10,000 toward education or research in her field.

Maeda found out about the contest through the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, which she was involved with on campus, and decided to apply because the contest’s message resonated with her.

Maeda added that she is expecting to begin working toward her doctoral degree in August 2017.