Problem-Solving UC Chemist Thrives in Diverse Department
UC chemist Eddie Merino taps diverse perspectives to design novel cancer research.
By: Camri Nelson
Phone: (513) 556-4350
Photos By: Provided
Eddie Merino has always loved science. When he was in elementary school in south San Diego, he’d make trips to the library to check out books on astronomy. In high school, his love of sports inspired a new interest in exercise physiology, or how exercise can lessen or even reverse the progression of diseases.
The associate professor of chemistry in the University of Cincinnati’s College of Arts and Sciences studied science whenever he wasn’t in school or working at Merino Landscape, the business his father launched after immigrating with his family to California. The work pruning trees and helping build lush, sustainable landscapes was a weekend “job” the younger Merino started at the age of six.
It was his continued interest in exercise and vitamins and how they impacted the body that inspired him to study chemistry at the University of San Diego. Though he had earned scholarships to college, by the time he had reached his senior year, he had run out of funding. Merino faced the very real prospect of having to drop out before completing his degree. He wound up piecing together loans that allowed him to graduate.
As he matured in scientific research he realized, was that, as a minority student, he didn’t know to seek access to the same support networks as his majority peers. Understanding how to connect with other researchers and academics to further his career was more of a challenge than the lab work and the complex formulas that shaped his investigations.
|Eddie Merino, associate professor of chemistry, finds teaching as inspiring as his students find him.|
“In science face time with the powerful people or the movers and shakers is important,” Merino explained.
Now an associate professor, he is more than a successful and innovative chemist passionate about his field. He is a lifelong problem-solver with a distinct approach to his research that has won him accolades from grant-makers, his peers and students alike.
“What I tell students all the time is that you get what you put in,” he said. “If you don’t show up and you don’t talk to the professors, you’re just going to fall by the wayside.”
Merino knows from personal experience that the effort pays off. He graduated from San Diego, then went on to get his doctoral degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Along the way, he developed his own expertise in chemistry, and beyond that, a fascination with ways that cells can be manipulated and changed.
He is a firm believer that it takes a team of collaborators with different perspectives to find new solutions for persistent world challenges, like fighting cancer. They spark each other’s intellectual curiosities in new ways, expanding their own perspectives while learning, growing and building a scientific community that more closely reflects the general population. In that learning, they discover more than new ways to approach their science, they make personal connections that lead to ongoing friendships, mentorships and collaborations.
|Associate Professor Merino takes pride in the accomplishments of his students.|
His work, which includes making molecules that can be used in research to combat cancer, is powerful evidence. “I came at it differently,” he said, and because of that, “I’ve been getting closer to solving the problem.”
Figuring out a way to attack cancer cells has become a highlight of Merino’s research, leading to grants for innovation and continued investigation. “Just to think that some kid from South San Diego with nothing can make a molecule that starts working in real life, is an amazing thing,” he said.
Merino’s lab at UC reflects his staunch commitment to diversity as a necessary tool for scientific discovery. It’s a mindset echoed by his departmental peers. Together, the group won the first-ever Provostal Exemplary Department Award
in 2016 and used the prize money to extend research opportunities to more aspiring chemists from a wide range of backgrounds.
In images and in real life, he and his graduate students are inevitably smiling, enjoying sharing their challenges on the journey to learn and grow together. It’s a positive and effective way that Merino said helps address a problem he sees in the scientific community: scientists need to pave the way for scientists from diverse communities to tackle problems in different ways.
“Without this, it will cut science off from the greater society,” he said.
In his teaching, Merino enjoys connecting science with the real world and making sure his students understand the content and are prepared to be successful. He takes pride in sending graduates to grad and medical school, training graduate students of his own and chance meetings with successful graduates in his daily life.
“The research is great and fascinating,” he said, “but the students always have a different story, and there’s always something new.”