Porras receives prestigious Career Award from the NSF and AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science

Dr. Ana Maria Porras, an assistant professor in the J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Florida, has been recognized with two prestigious awards: the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the 2024 Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The NSF CAREER Award, the most esteemed recognition presented by the NSF, underscores Dr. Porras’s contributions to research and education, specifically in the realm of host-parasite interactions and extracellular matrix (ECM) biology. Her CAREER proposal outlines her vision for developing advanced in vitro systems to quantify the impact of these interactions on ECM biology. She aims to identify the mechanisms through which microorganisms regulate host tissue remodeling and to develop innovative solutions for chronic protozoal infections. This research is particularly significant as climate change is projected to increase the prevalence of parasitic infections, such as those caused by Leishmania protozoa, including in the United States. Her work focuses on creating more physiologically relevant biomaterials-based in vitro platforms to investigate ECM remodeling induced by these protozoa in the liver.

Dr. Porras’s research objectives are not only intellectually significant but also have broad potential impacts. She integrates her research with education initiatives aimed at empowering underrepresented communities in STEM, fostering global collaborations, and increasing public awareness about tropical parasitic infections. This commitment is reflected in her public engagement efforts, which were a key factor in her receiving the AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science. This accolade recognizes her excellence in science communication and outreach, particularly targeting underrepresented communities in the United States and Latin America.

Leading the Tissue-Microbe Interactions lab, Dr. Porras’s research focuses on engineering in vitro disease models to explore human-microbe interactions within the contexts of the microbiome, infectious disease, and global health. Beyond her research, she is dedicated to international collaboration and public engagement. Named a UF International Center Global Fellow in 2021 and featured in the Smithsonian exhibit “If Then, She Can” in 2022, Dr. Porras continues to inspire through her public engagement initiatives. These include using art and social media to make science accessible, advocating for multilingualism, and collaborating with communities to tailor STEM experiences.

Dr. Porras’s innovative approaches to public engagement began during her postdoctoral training at Cornell University, where she initiated #MicrobeMondays and #MicroMartes on Instagram, using crocheted microbes to tell stories about the importance of microorganisms. Her advocacy for linguistic diversity in STEM communication and her collaborations with organizations like Science Clubs Colombia and Unidos Now exemplify her commitment to making science inclusive and accessible.

As a co-founder of the Latinx in BME community and an advocate for the inclusion of women and Latinx individuals in STEM fields, Dr. Porras’s work bridges scientific excellence with public engagement. Her achievements, recognized by both the NSF and AAAS, solidify her standing as a leader and advocate in the scientific community, inspiring future generations in STEM.