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Lunch with a Luminary: Linda Griffith

You should meet Linda Griffith. No, really, you should: it could be quite beneficial both to you and to her.

Dr. Griffith works at MIT as a Professor of Biological Engineering, which is a department she helped create. She’s also Director of the Center for Gynepathology Research and a School of Engineering Professor of Teaching Innovation.

Dr. Griffith’s research in tissue engineering has often captured public attention. When she first came to MIT, she worked on a project that involved growing cartilage in the shape of a human ear on the back of a mouse. Stories about the mouse first hit the news in 1995, and still pop up occasionally, such as in this Nova Documentary that aired last January.

Dr. Griffith agrees to come to events like “Lunch with a Luminary” because she feels that scientists have a real responsibility to explain their work to the public—after all, any funding from the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health is taxpayer money. Also, she feels that they have a responsibility to listen to the questions the public is asking. “Real people can have an impact by showing up and asking questions,” Dr. Griffith says. In fact, a question from the audience once changed the course of her research program.

In 2007, Dr. Griffith spoke on a panel at a women’s event at the Museum of Science. The organizers wanted to know how her research helped women, specifically. At first, Dr. Griffith brushed it off as a silly question. Her work involved organs that all people had, like livers.

Around the same time, Dr. Griffith’s niece started suffering from endometriosis, a serious illness where tissue that behaves like the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus, causing pain, irregular bleeding, and often infertility. Doctors, some of them female, kept telling Dr. Griffith’s niece that her disease was all in her head, and accused her of making up maladies in order to skip school. By the time she got treatment, her endometriosis was quite advanced. After speaking at the Museum of Science, Dr. Griffith started thinking more about women’s-specific health issues. Since 2009, she has recruited ten colleagues to work at MIT’s Center for Gynepathology Research.

Dr. Griffith is a great speaker with a wealth of interesting stories to share. My favorite was about the time the MacArthur Foundation called to tell her she’d won an award, and she wouldn’t return their call, because she thought it was a prank. The details are definitely worth asking about when you meet her next week.

The MIT Museum invites you to chat with Dr. Griffith on Tuesday, May 3, from 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm. Bring your lunch and your questions about tissue engineering, the life of a scientist, interdisciplinary research, the founding of a new scientific discipline, or anything else you can think up.

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