Samantha Marquez began working in university research labs when she was 12 years old. She recalls the questioning looks: "The bathroom's that way," some people would say. "Oh no, I'm supposed to be here," she had to explain.
Her first major accomplishment — in middle school — was developing a three-dimensional hollow structure made of living cells, called a celloidosome. This work led to seven patent applications and two first-place awards at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
A celloidosome is such a versatile structure that it could be adapted for various medical uses, Marquez says. One possibility, which she's just begun to explore, is using a celloidosome constructed of stem cells as a vehicle for delivering drugs or cells into the body — "sort of a Harry Potter's invisible cloak" for the immune system.
Last summer she assisted with research on a way to collect and trap cyanide that's released in the cooking of cassava, a tropical plant. She also speaks to students through the Virginia Latino Higher Education Network, demolishing negative stereotypes about scientists and about Hispanics.
A poised yet humble junior at Maggie L. Walker Governor's School, Marquez resists the genius label. She surprises her friends by opting for mind-broadening classes such as world religions over advanced placement physics. "I don't need to be the best at everything that I do," she says. "I just need to try my best at what I do."