Utana Umezaki ’24 first came to Rice from Japan as an undergraduate to participate in the TOMODACHI STEM program for women scientists, which gave her the opportunity to work on bio-inorganic chemistry in Professor Angel Martí’s lab.
Throughout that experience, she was impressed with how Dr. Martí’s lab was using photochemistry to address Alzheimer’s disease. The combination of the TOMODACHI program and the experience of watching her own grandmother struggle with dementia inspired Utana to focus her work on finding a treatment for the disease.
“The last time I saw my grandmother, she couldn’t recognize me,” Utana says. “That was so sad, and I found there was no efficient treatment for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, so I became curious.” Now as a fourth-year graduate student, she’s focusing her research on protein aggregation and photochemistry.
Her time in Dr. Martí’s lab was eye-opening when it came to science, but the Rice community as a whole made a lasting impact on her. “I liked Dr. Martí’s lab and how supportive Rice was, so I wanted to come back for graduate school. As an international student, I face extra challenges, and Rice helps provide the resources I need, like help finding housing,” she says.
Utana not only benefits from all the support the Rice community offers, she plays a leadership role helping other students. She is a mentor to undergraduate Japanese women in the TOMODACHI STEM program, and to Taiwanese women in the similar MACHI program. She also serves as the vice president of the Japanese Graduate Student Association on campus.
This year brings exciting new achievements for Utana, who was recently selected for the prestigious Quad Fellowship. As one of only 100 students selected from Japan, the United States, Australia and India, she’ll collaborate with the other fellows to discuss global problems and challenges.
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