Newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest from MAKERS delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for new stories from trailblazing women, a big dose of inspiration, and exclusive MAKERS content.

Newsletter Confirmation

Thank you for joining! Please check your inbox for our special welcome letter
with exclusive updates from MAKERS.

MAKERS Moment

Blind to Prejudice

Blind to Prejudice

More From Lydia

In this video

Villa-Komaroff reflects on her being oblivious to the clear prejudices she faced as a woman of color in college and throughout her career.

Lydia's Biography

Cause of Choice: Science Club for Girls and SACNAS
Advice to Young Women: “It is just as hard to do a hard career as an easy career so go for that which is interesting.”
Biggest Influence Never Met: Octavio Paz through his  book The Labyrinth of Solitude
Proudest Accomplishments: "The insulin work. The company I am involved in now which I am proud to have saved, and I think its product will be very important medically. And the people I’ve taught."

Lydia Villa-Komarrof's decision to pursue a career in science was decidedly unconventional for Mexican American upbringing in Santa Fe, New Mexico. "Traditionally, Hispanic women are not socialized to believe they can earn a living, much less be scientists,” she has said. But her parents encouraged her to follow her dreams, and by age nine, she knew her future was as a scientist. In 1965, she enrolled in college as a chemistry major, but after an advisor told Villa-Komaroff that women did not belong in chemistry, she switched majors, settling on biology. After college, she was accepted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and became the third Mexican-American woman to earn a science Ph.D. in the U.S.
During her 20-year research career, she has held positions at MIT, Harvard University, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Harvard Medical School, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories, and Children's Hospital in Boston. Her most memorable discovery came in 1978, when she was the lead author of a landmark paper demonstrating how bacterial cells could be used to generate insulin. The work was a major scientific innovation in DNA technology and protein synthesis, and she was awarded with two patents.  
Later in her career, Dr. Villa-Komaroff moved into science administration and the private bio-tech world where she now serves as Chief Scientific Officer and a Board member of Cytonome/ST. She has served on committees for the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Academies of Science and Engineering. Among other honors, she has been recognized by election to the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Hall of Fame and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by Hispanic Business Magazine. She is deeply committed to the recruitment and retention of minorities and women in science. She is a founding member of SACNAS, the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, and has served as a board member and vice president.  

Related Videos

Majora Carter
Majora Carter
Community Developer

Majora Carter became passionate about community development while completing her MFA at New York University, advocating for the development of Hunts Point Riverside Park, the South...

Julie Taymor
Julie Taymor
Director of Theatre & Film

Director Julie Taymor was born into theatrics. Raised outside of Boston by a family who encouraged her early independence and passion for theater, Taymor entrenched herself in perf...

Sara Lamm
Sara Lamm
Documentary Filmmaker

Sara Lamm is a Los Angeles based filmmaker who has produced, directed and performed in a variety of multimedia performances, featuring audio collage, video and still photography. H...

Nancy Wexler
Nancy Wexler
Neuropsychologist & President, Hereditary Disease Foundation

Nancy Wexler, PhD is a neuropsychologist who's devoted her life's work to finding a cure for the fatal hereditary disorder Huntington's Disease. She is best known for h...