Dr. Lauren Esposito Talks About STEM and Inclusion

 

Dr. Lauren EspositoOn Wednesday, March 6, Lauren Esposito, PhD, the assistant curator and Schlinger Chair of Arachnology at the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, visited the Pathways to Science Speaker Series at Saint Mary’s LeFevre Theatre to discuss her work in STEM. She is also the co-founder of the 500 Queer Scientists campaign. Esposito is a scorpiologist, one of only 20 worldwide. Scorpiology is a specialized area of arachnology focusing on the study of scorpions.

Esposito acknowledged that many people have fear-inducing misconceptions about scorpions yet are also bizarrely fascinated by them. She began her talk by attempting to dispel these fears by sharing incredible videos of her research trips in search of scorpions, everywhere from tropical jungles to California deserts. She also spoke about surprising aspects of scorpions, such as how they are thought to navigate their habitat using starlight and that they are dedicated mothers.

Following this, Esposito addressed what most people fear about scorpions: their venom. There are around 2,405 known species of scorpions in the world, only 25 of which are lethal to humans. As Esposito pointed out, however, the neuropeptides found in all scorpion venom have the potential to be biomedically valuable. In two recent studies, scorpion venom has been successful in lessening the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and healing antibiotic resistant MRSA infections in mice. Additionally, one study using scorpion venom to target brain glioma cells has been the first to make it to human clinical trials, with the hopes of one day offering a treatment for brain cancer that does not involve surgically removing healthy brain tissue.

Aside from her research with scorpions, Esposito is the co-founder of the 500 Queer Scientists visibility campaign. The goal of this campaign was to create a sense of community via the Internet for LGBTQ+ individuals in STEM fields by letting them share their personal stories regarding the intersection of their identities and experiences in the workplace. This social media platform is key for individuals to express themselves in a way that they may not feel safe to do in their professional environment.

Esposito was inspired to create this group after learning that 40 percent of individuals who are LGBTQ+ are not out to their colleagues, and of those who are out, 69.2 percent reported feeling uncomfortable in their department. She noted that when this endeavor began, she was unsure of how people would react to it. Fortunately, she found that members of the LGBTQ+ community in STEM from around the world came together to recognize and reaffirm each other’s experiences and accomplishments.

“People came together and wanted to tell the world what they’ve done in STEM that had pushed their field forward and pushed society forward as a whole,” Esposito noted. Today, only nine months after being established, more than 850 stories have been shared on the campaign’s Twitter and Instagram accounts, with more coming in every week.