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

Without Role Models

Without Role Models

More From Lydia

In this video

A day with her young nephew showed Villa-Komaroff the power of seeing someone who looks like you in every profession.

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

Sara Ziff
Sara Ziff
Filmmaker & Advocate

At the age of 14, Sara Ziff was walking home from school in New York City, when she was scouted to become a model. Ziff's experiences as a young model eventually fed into a des...

Genevieve S. Brown
Genevieve S. Brown
Urban Revitalization Pioneer

Genevieve S. Brown has been called “one of the architects of the New Bronx.” She was a driving force behind the urban revitalization that helped rescue the borough from...

Kara Swisher
Kara Swisher
Journalist

In her junior year of college at Georgetown University, Kara Swisher became incensed with an article she read in The Washington Post. It was full of errors, even spelling mistakes,...

Ellie Krieger
Ellie Krieger
Nutritionist, Author & TV Host

Host of the Food Network's hit show Healthy Appetite, Ellie Krieger presents nutrition in the media as a joyful balance of healthy and rich satisfying food and lifestyle. A...