Faces of Science: Zaina Banihani
Zaina in S Marie Curie 2.0 Dress
AmorSui’s “Faces of Science” Campaign features women scientists with their own unique shapes, sizes, and stories to encourage current women and future generations in STEM fields to feel comfortable in their skin and empowered to discover the next big thing.
Today, our feature is Zaina Banihani, a formulation chemist at AgroFresh, a Master's candidate in pharmaceutical bioengineering at the University of Washington, and the mastermind behind the chicchemist, a lifestyle blog of all things food, fashion, and science. Read more about her drive to help people through science, her love of dresses, and why modern vintage should be the next fashion trend.
What is your research focus?
My R&D project focuses on figuring out how to get produce from other countries in the US and make them last longer in the supermarket and in our fridge. Right now, we're focused mainly on apples since they are the largest crop in the US. We are looking at citrus fruits next and then berries.
What attracts you to science?
With science, I know there is so much to learn. I feel like you can never really stop learning. There are so many different aspects and career paths you could explore. The field just draws me in. I stick with science because I don’t know where I’ll end up. There is this sense that the possibilities are endless, and that is the coolest part about it!
What motivates you to continue to work in science?
For me, it is for the end users who could be benefiting from my work. For my previous role, I served patients who were using medicine that I helped to formulate. Right now, it is the consumers who are eating the produce. There is this sense of responsibility for scientists who work on potential products with end users in mind. You have to put in the research work that will benefit the general population, and not focus solely on your own interests.
For me, it is about helping people.
What is your career aspiration? What do you want to do next?
Right now, I am in a Master's program for pharmaceutical engineering. My goal is to pursue work in personalized medicine, focusing on developing drugs that are catered to individuals. I truly believe in helping individual patients feel better. I’ve always put myself in patients’ shoes. If I am sick and there is only a specific drug that would make me feel better, I would want someone to help me and make it accessible. I want to be that champion for somebody and help them.
What is the last accomplishment you celebrated?
In my personal life, I just finished my first semester of my Master's program. That was super exciting!
Career-wise, I just received the good news that a product I formulated at my previous role was approved by the FDA for psoriasis. It feels amazing to know that someone out there will be using a product that I created. That is why I love pharmaceutical work: I feel like I am contributing to the good in the world.
Tell me something you think is strange about you
OMG. I have really bad food allergies. I am actually allergic to both peanuts and shellfish. People don’t usually figure that out until we go out to dinner. It is really weird, but I manage and I make it work.
Zaina in S Marie Curie 2.0 Dress
Could you describe your wardrobe?
I love modern vintage. I like clothes that have a modern classic line, but in a vintage style. I enjoy brands like Loft and J.Crew, where garments are structured and tailored, and there is modernness with color and sparkles. I love sparkly things. I think that is what gives a garment a modern edge. I also like wearing soft and hard clothes together, e.g. leather with lace or leather with floral.
Do your outfits differ in/out of the lab?
I keep my wardrobe super easy and simple in the lab. I know that any moment something could spill on me. Outside of the lab, I express my fun and feminine side more. I keep my work and life wardrobe separate but still incorporate pieces from both.
Do you have a dress code when working in your lab?
We have to wear closed-toe shoes. We can wear any type of pants or jeans, but there could not be any rips or holes. We are also required to wear at least short sleeves.
I don’t generally wear any makeup or nail polish in the lab. I try to avoid having anything stick to makeup that could travel home with me. Safety is the number one priority for me.
What outfits would you normally wear when you need to look nice for presentations or talks?
I love pairing a well-fitted dress with a blazer and boots. Boots are my go-to because they are sturdy, then a dress to add a feminine touch, and then a blazer to tie it all together.
What advice you would give to female scientists to dress more appropriately or professionally in the lab?
I would say don’t wear graphic T-shirt with words on them. I would suggest wearing a solid white, black, or pattern T-shirts instead.