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Representation in STEM: Kisley, Dr. Lydia

A digital conduit for student-curated content presenting the contributions and challenges faced by underrepresented prominent figures in STEM. Physical banners were placed on display at Baldwin Wallace in spring 2022 with supporting programming scheduled.

Dr. Lydia Kisley

Dr. Kisley is loading a wet sample onto a microscope slide, which is attached to a fixed flow system to stream various solutions into the sample, including protein and salt concentrations.

“Persistence is a very important thing. Things will get really hard but you can’t quit. There is always someone out there who is willing to help you.” 

An award winning Post-Doctoral Fellow, an ambitious woman on Forbes’s 30 Under 30 (2017), who grew up in Mentor, OH, Dr. Lydia Kisley’s courage is an inspiration to the scientists and engineers she leads. Growing up, Dr. Kisley had a passion for music and strongly considered a future in music education. However, the quantitative challenges, critical thinking skills, and gratification of solving complex problems drew her towards physics early into her college career.

After graduating from Mentor High School, Dr. Kisley attended Wittenberg University, where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and, Summa Cum Laude. During her undergraduate studies, she began taking her success into her own hands with outstanding academic enrichment opportunities as soon as her Sophomore year of college, when she earned her first internship at Rochling Industrial: an international corporation recognized for manufacturing in industries from aquafarming to nuclear technology. This internship involved designing plastics at Rochling Machining Plastics. The following summer, she earned a nationally competitive research position at Clemson University where analyzed the behavior of silver molecules. The summer following her Junior year, she earned her second competitive research position at University of Colorado at Boulder. Here, she designed circuits from unique materials, and presented posters and research papers to professionals in the field during both internships. Soon, Dr. Kisley drew up daunting dreams of becoming a professor at a university and having her own research lab.

Immediately following her bachelor’s degree, she enrolled in a graduate study in physics at Rice University, funded by teaching and research positions. Upon earning her Ph.D. from Rice, she was awarded a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at The University of Illinois: Urbana, Champaign. This path was not easy. She recalls feelings of displacement in the moves required by her summers at Clemson and Colorado, followed by her PhD studies, and in Urbana, as she travelled among these pursuits. During these moves, she also became troubled by the absence of diversity among both, students and faculty, as her education progressed. “I noticed there were fewer [women] as I went through grad school, and I was more comfortable going to women for help.” Dr. Kisley recognized a situation during a graduate level course where her understanding was questioned based on her gender. However, she acknowledged that, at this time, “persistence is a very important thing,” and, “things will get really hard, but you can’t quit.”

In 2019, Dr. Kisley awarded the distinguished title of Warren E. Rupp Assistant Professor of Physics and Chemistry at Case Western Reserve University shortly after finishing her fellowship in Illinois. Today, she leads teams of graduate and undergraduate students in her recently built Kisley Lab for molecular and materials research, using experimental Biophysics techniques recently developed by Nobel Prize winning physicists. These techniques were discovered by emitting a beam of blue light towards the inside of a cell, which reflects red light seen through a microscope to study internal activity. Alternatively, Dr. Kisley uses these techniques with her team, but emits blue light towards the outside of the cell to examine external activity. She described the value of collaboration, which she attempts to create in her laboratory. As a result of collaborating with her students from various disciplines, many applications of her work have resulted, including understanding corrosion with chemical engineering students, and developing new imaging capabilities towards muscular dystrophy.

Dr. Lydia Kisley’s journey into the field of Biophysics included significant difficulties, but demonstrated the reward when risk is infused with passion. If a wall arose, she built a ladder and climbed. If an abyss approached, constructed a bridge. From her first day as a Tiger at Wittenberg, through her far-reaching days as a CWRU Spartan, nothing could flunk out Dr. Kisley. Her strength and tenacity exemplify the power of a woman in a very challenging branch of STEM.

Contributing BW student:

Kyla Koos: Physics major, Applied Math major