Marie Burns ’92, Ph.D.
Biochemistry | Davis, Calif.
It was sometime during her second year at Susquehanna that Marie Burns fell in love. With scientific research, that is.
The summer following her sophomore year, Burns, a biochemistry major, took part in an internship with Tom McGrath, now a professor emeritus of chemistry. She helped him develop a novel organic synthesis method for a major chemical company. In subsequent summers, Burns worked at the Weis Center for Research at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., and for Professor of Biology Margaret Peeler on sea urchin development.
“I loved applying the knowledge and basic principles I’d learned in class with my own two hands and the anticipation of getting the results of an experiment that could not be fully predicted,” recalls Burns, 41. “I’m still an ‘Oh wow, how amazing!’ junkie. Nature is stranger and more fascinating than the most imaginative fiction.”
Today Burns is a professor of cell biology, human anatomy and ophthalmology at The University of California, Davis. Her research focuses on mammalian photoreceptors—the rods and cones in the eye that capture light and mediate the first steps in vision—and nearly all of her work has important implications for the mechanisms that cause most forms of blindness.
“To this day I still experience that same rush that comes with scientific discovery,” says Burns.
In addition to the invaluable academic influence Susquehanna had on her career, Burns also says the university helped her appreciate an even more important life lesson—namely, how to balance her professional ambitions with her desire to one day be a mother.
“I had no female role models at that time in the sciences. Then, during my sophomore year, Peggy Peeler was hired, and the year after that, she had her second child. Watching her carry, deliver and then care for that baby as a new assistant professor inspired me that it could be done,” recalls Burns. “I knew I wouldn’t have to leave behind the whole of my gender or my personality to be a good scientist.”
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