Samelia Okpodu 

Samelia Okpodu (SX 2010) is researching how critical molecular components of the human eye effect retinal development and the downstream effects of their absence. 

Sameliahires1ForWebTell us about your educational background, including your doctoral research.
My bachelor's degree is in optical engineering and was completed at Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Virginia. I am currently working on my PhD in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at Howard University in Washington, DC. My emphasis is on neurophysiology, more specifically the cellular and molecular aspects of retinal development. The retina is the neural component of the eye that contains the photoreceptors as well as the initial processing machinery for visual pathways. 

What is the focus of your current research? 
My current research focuses on the development of the retina with specific emphasis on Prickle2, a core protein of the planar cell polarity signaling pathway. Prickle2 is specifically interesting in the retina because of characteristics found in the expression profile of cone-dominated (mutant) retina. 

Tell us about something we might see in our daily lives that directly correlates to your work. 
Sameliahires2ForWebVisual impairments have the ability to touch every aspect of our lives. Degradation and degeneration of the retina can lead to partial or full blindness. So my research is rooted in investigating why this happens. 

Do you have a particular teacher or professor who inspired your love of science?
My love of science undoubtedly comes from my mother, who is a professor and researcher. I spent countless hours in the lab with her when I was a child racking pipette tips, which was my first foray into the scientific process. I also was fortunate to have fantastic scientific guidance in college. My mentor helped cultivate my passion for optics. 

What are your thoughts on the future of STEM education?
STEM education is reaching a critical point and the potential for growth in this realm is phenomenal. If we can find a way to be more inclusive as a scientific community and make science more accessible, understandable, and relatable to the general community, I see no reason why STEM education would not continue to evolve and improve. 

What has the honor of induction into Sigma Xi meant to you?
In being inducted into Sigma Xi, I joined a community which encompasses phenomenal scientists and over 200 Noble Prize laureates. That alone is enough to relish. Added to the fact that there are many opportunities for me, as a young researcher, to continue to grow and learn from other, more seasoned scientists, and the honor of induction is something to be grateful for and continues to reveal itself over time. 

What books are you currently reading for pleasure?
I've recently become interested in the physiological effects of nutrition and international studies. So the books that I am currently reading are Eat to Live by Joel Furhman and Rise to Globalism by Stephen Ambrose and Douglas Brinkley.

When you're not working on your research, what do you do in your free time? 
In my free time I enjoy learning new languages and being outdoors. 

What's your favorite movie?
Pan's Labyrinth, written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro. 

What is your favorite motto?
Fall seven times, stand up eight. 

What advice would you give to a young researcher just starting out in your field?
People tend to go into science because they are relatively smart and have excelled in science courses early on. However, while intelligence is a key component to success in science, scientific research is not necessarily about who is the smartest or cleverest but rather about who has the patience and focus to keep moving forward. You have to develop a thirst for the scientific process, not just for the end result. 

What advances do you see in your field of research over the next 100 years?
In the next 100 years I see continued advances in the area of retinal gene therapy as it pertains to personalized health care and medical intervention and treatment related to genetic disorders that cause low vision or blindness.

About the Meet Your Fellow Companion series: Sigma Xi's motto is the Greek "Spoudon Xynones," or "Companions in Zealous Research." With that thought in mind, we like to highlight "Fellow Companions" to learn more about their work and what the honor of induction to Sigma Xi has meant for their careers. 

The articles are published in the Sigma Xi Today section of American Scientist and here on the website.