Alumna ‘thinks small’ and makes a big impact
Dr. Simona Hunyadi Murph (EdS ’12) may work with particles 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, but when it comes to nurturing the next generation of researchers, her accomplishments are almost too big to measure.
Not only is Murph the founder of the Group for Innovation and Advancements in Nano-Technology Sciences (GIANTS), an initiative that exposes students from Augusta University, the University of Georgia, the University of South Carolina, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University and Clemson University to the world of nanotechnology, but she was also named an Inspirational Woman in STEM by the U.S. Department of Energy. Last year, Augusta University also named her a Distinguished Alumna and Presidential Alumna for the College of Education. She was later honored to give the keynote address at the Freshman Convocation.
Though she credits her mother’s cooking for her initial interest in science and the sci-fi classic The Fantastic Voyage for her fascination with nanotechnology, Murph didn’t immediately “think small.” After completing her master’s in chemistry in her native Romania, she taught high school chemistry for many years before a friend told her about her experience teaching in the United States.
“I thought about it for some time, and I examined my accomplishments as a Romanian teacher,” she says. “I thought that teaching in what was to me the foreign country of America would be an exciting new adventure. Nearly 20 years later, I have had quite an adventure.”
It was while pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in chemistry at the University of South Carolina that she was introduced to the fields of nanoscience and nanotechnology. Learning that one could deliberately manipulate matter at the atomic level and create novel materials with unique properties that may cure cancer and other diseases, help one explore and/or live in space, make us live longer and healthier lives, increase communications between people around the world and discover new energy supplies was exhilarating to her.
“This is what makes the field of nanotechnology so exciting and rewarding for me,” she says. “I love that of all the sciences, my focus is on the newest. I continue to be amazed at the new discoveries that my fellow scientists across the globe publish. They continue to contribute to this amazing field every day.”
Now a principal researcher at Savannah River National Laboratory, Murph’s department currently designs and creates nanomaterials that can be used in applications as wide-ranging as medicine, transportation, environmental protection, disease control and energy creation.
“We are an applied laboratory,” she says. “Even though I still like to do the science for the sake of the science, that is not what we’re doing – we’re targeting real-world applications.”
Throughout her research career, Murph has maintained her love of teaching, promoting student and teacher interests in science, working closely with her interns, and keeping up with her students’ careers after they move on.
“I like to keep in touch with them, and it gives me great pleasure to hear that they earned a good job, they got accepted into graduate school, or they went back to school and joined a nanotechnology group,” she says. “I tell myself: ‘Yes! – I paid it forward. I did something right.’”
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