Ana María Porras, exalted scientist at the Smithsonian – Science – Life

Until March 27, in the United States, different museums of the Smithsonian Institution will host, on the occasion of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, the exhibition ‘IfThenSheCan’ (‘If she wants, she can’), the largest collection of statues of women ever assembled.

120 life-size 3D printed orange statues of a diverse group of women scientists, leaders in fields ranging from wildlife protection, galaxy discovery, art and popular science to research trying to cure cancer.

(You may be interested: Spam from Scientists, beyond the trend, a movement).

Twelve are Latin American, and among them The name of a Colombian also stands out, Dr. Ana María Porras, a bumanguesa, professor at the University of Florida, who is in charge of studying the human microbiomethose microorganisms that live inside us, both the good ones and the bad ones, those that cause diseases.

The exhibition is an initiative that was born from the If/Then project, of the non-profit organization Lyda Hill Philanthropies, designed to activate a cultural change among young women so that they decide to pursue STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and mathematics, for its acronym in English). Dr. Porras, who like the other 119 women is an If/Then ambassador, was recruited within a call that the philanthropist Lyda Hill made together with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to select female role models of high profile to inspire girls and teens.

Ana Maria Porras

Dr. Porras is an ambassador for If/Then, an initiative that seeks to bring girls closer to science.

But at the time of making that application in 2019, they still did not know that their faces would be part of this great sample of statues. “The exhibition itself arises from a study that indicates that in the 12 most populous cities in the United States there are less than six statues of women in spaces open to the public. And the ones there were monuments like the Statue of Liberty, for example, but not of flesh and blood women”, recalls Dr. Porras.

(You can also read: Four Colombian scientists who stand out in Latin America).

Therefore, these organizations decided to convert the If/Then ambassadors, a group of women from different backgrounds and fields of action, by scanning them and then printing them in 3D, giving rise to an exhibition that was proof of what real scientists look likemodels in which girls can see themselves represented, with a wide range of careers in which at some point they too can specialize to work in this field.

The official launch of the exhibition was last weekend, first in a private event that was attended by Lonnie Bunch, secretary of the Smithsonian, and representatives of other museums of this institution, such as the National Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Arts and Industries and the National Air and Space Museum, where part of the collection of orange statues will also be exhibited during this month, in addition to the opening to the public, in which the ambassadors were able to interact with the spectators who went to see their figures.

For me, the most special thing was having talked and shared with Latino families and people, from little girls to older women. Several people when they read my last name asked me if I spoke Spanish, several Colombians heard my accent and were very excited that I was from Colombia. It was very nice to see that they felt represented and I felt very honored”, explains Dr. Porras, who will have her figure exhibited at the Natural History Museum.

(Also: They will launch an organization to promote space development in Colombia).

Ana Maria Porras

In crochet, this scientist found an alternative to make the microorganisms that she studies daily visible to anyone.

Growing up in a family of engineers –her mother was a professor of Systems Engineering at the Industrial University of Santander–, she considers that she was lucky because she grew up knowing that if she wanted to, she could be an engineer, and she only noticed the low representativeness of the women in this field upon entering college. “It would be ideal if all girls and boys grew up in that world, knowing that they can do whatever they want to do.”, he reflects.

On this path of breaking paradigms in science, Dr. Porras has also entered art. In crochet, this scientist found an alternative to make the microorganisms that she studies daily with her team in the laboratory visible to anyone, facilitating the dissemination of science.

Currently, in addition to inspiring new generations, he studies the interactions between human beings and microorganisms, from those that cause infectious tropical diseases, such as leishmaniasis, to bacteria and microorganisms that live in our intestines and have a certain effect on the Human health.


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