‘What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?’

Drawing inspiration from Marie Curie, this researcher is helping push biomedical engineering forward with "cool, out-of-the-box approaches".


Anna Blakney is an Assistant Professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering at the University of British Columbia. Her research examines the interactions between RNA, biomaterials, and the immune system to prevent and treat disease. We asked her about everything from her admiration for Marie Curie to being a mail-carrier as an alternative career in the hopes of giving you a better understanding of what goes on outside the lab for one of the best minds in Canadian research.

What do you like most about being a researcher?

I find it incredibly empowering to have the opportunity to come up with an idea and then go into the lab and test it. I also love working with a multidisciplinary team of scientists and engineers — they think about problems in very different ways, but often come up with cool, out-of-the-box approaches.

What advice would you give young researchers?

I think that some of the best experiences you can have are finding out what you don’t like. There are so many opportunities when you’re at a university — take advantage of this to find out what you do and don’t like doing! It’s important to get out of your comfort zone; I like to ask myself, “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

What inspired you to become a researcher?

I went to an engineering camp (very cool, I know) at a university when I was in high school. I didn’t really know what bioengineering or research was at the time, but while I was there I saw a demo about how engineers had made the highly water-absorbable polymers that we now use in baby diapers. At that moment, I had this realization that bioengineering is actually everywhere around us and that we could actually design tools to make the world a better place, and I was hooked.

What do you like to do for fun?

I love to be active outside! Hiking, skiing, biking, tennis, etc.

What’s your favourite cuisine?

Wow, that’s a tough one. If I had to choose, I’d say sushi, Ethiopian, and Thai are my top three.

If you could do any profession other than your own what would it be?

I would be a mail-carrier. Maybe this is an idealistic view but it sounds nice to walk around all day, delivering mail and saying hi to the neighbourhood dogs.

If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be and why?

I’d love to meet Marie Curie — she was such a scientific powerhouse (two Nobel prizes!) in a time when science was heavily male-dominated. I’m interested to know what drove her and what challenges she overcame in her lifetime.

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