Scientist and Diplomat- Marinda Wu

     Diversity. Experience. Passion. Commitment.

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"Scientist and Diplomat- Marinda Wu"

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The following article, written by Joan Moynihan, Editor of International Trade Show Press, was originally scheduled to be published in the Spring 2008 ACS Show Daily. It now awaits publication until after the ACS election. Used with permission on this website.

 

As the subject of the first in what the ACS Show Daily hopes will become a series of profiles, Marinda Wu, ACS Board of Directors, is perfect: She epitomizes all that is best about being a chemist. She says that her career might easily have taken a different path: in high school she dreamed of becoming either a scientist or an ambassador. In fact, today she is both.

            Perhaps the most obvious word that comes to mind as Wu describes her professional life, her dedication to broadening and refining educational opportunities for children, and her successful entrepreneurial experiences, is passion. When Wu ran for a position on the ACS Board, she often quoted an Asian proverb: “Vision without action is only a daydream, but action without vision is a nightmare.” Wu believes in the ACS vision of “Improving people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry,” and to that she adds, “We must now focus on the actions that will realize this vision and address the challenges of the 21st century.” She is very concerned about the future of her profession and the country—including globalization and innovation, for example. “There are so many critical issues,” she says, “and I believe in the power of working together to address them—career services, the economic and professional future of chemists. … These are issues I’ve been involved with for a long time. I’m proud to be a chemist.”        

Wu, who lives in California’s Bay Area, was born in Pasadena. Although she spent a good deal of time in California, her father was a professor at Ohio State University, where she grew up and where she obtained her B.S. in chemistry. She went on to earn a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, after which she spent 17 years working in industry—after she returned to her beloved California, at Dow Chemical’s Western research center (Walnut Creek).

In 1992, after the Dow facility closed, Wu established her own business, which she named “Science Is Fun!” The focus of that undertaking was to reach out to youngsters, demonstrating the joy of science—not just chemistry, but all sciences—and not necessarily trying to turn the children into scientists, but rather to teach them not to dislike science.

Convinced of the necessity to make science interesting and to tap into children’s imaginations, Wu became aware of the shortcomings of science education, and very soon she was spending a great deal of time visiting state and congressional legislators lobbying for improved support and funding for K through 12 science education. As her involvement widened, however, Science Is Fun continued its grass-roots work. She (and a new business partner) have maintained their focus on feeding children’s curiosity and creativity. She believes that education, psychology, and other disciplines can work together to make children’s education better than it is. “Sports are more highly valued than science, it seems,” she sighs. But Wu is no stranger to forging alliances: Her work in areas of public outreach over the years has included enabling and supporting partnerships between industry, communities, government, and school systems. Her technical, managerial, and entrepreneurial experience encompasses a large chemical company, a small company, and a start-up.

            A long and impressive list of honors and awards does not begin to describe the intensity of Wu’s passion for science education and community involvement. It is critical, she says, for the community at large to become more scientifically literate. “Too often the general public doesn’t realize what chemists are really doing,” she says. She once told a colleague who works for Novartis that she loves the Novartis TV commercials that talk about drugs that are being used to save someone’s life after they’ve been diagnosed with cancer:  “You need to add one more sentence,” Wu said. “You need to let people know that it was a chemist who developed that life-saving drug because people don’t make that leap—they don’t realize how much chemists and chemistry mean to society in terms of benefits.”

Wu has never lost her interest in reaching out to the general public. One recent example includes her adoption and promotion of ACS “Science Cafés”. The California Local Section chose an informal, local café where an expert scientist initiated a non-technical discussion with interested individuals, with opportunities for questions and answers and open dialogue. The result? Standing Room Only at their first Science Café in Orinda, CA. Topics for Science Cafés have ranged from “The Chemistry of Chocolate” to “Earthquakes in the Bay Area” with possible future topics including global warming and cancer-causing substances.

Wu also introduced Family Science Night to her region (under the umbrella of National Chemistry Week), an event that has held the interest of students and families for more than ten years, featuring hands-on demonstrations and exhibits. These events, too, attract huge, multi-ethnic, enthusiastic crowds. “Sometimes everything I say is translated into Spanish,” says Wu.

            An ACS member for nearly 40 years, Wu’s contributions are wide ranging at both national and local levels. Her interest in career assistance led her to co-found group meetings for local job seekers, and to organize career workshops and panel discussions for the California Section; and of course she is well known for her work with the ACS Committee on Economic and Professional Affairs.

            On the timely topics of increasing globalization and offshoring, Wu is exploring those issues. A recent trip to China and Taiwan fortified her awareness of the dramatic changes taking place there. She believes strongly in multicultural diversity and is sharing her views on fostering communication and collaboration as those topics affect ACS membership.

            Marinda Wu is truly an ambassador for science—for chemistry—and she is a powerful influence for those she comes in contact with to join in her work.