Tamara Ewing’s passion for chemistry has been a driving force in her career in the laboratory and on social media.
She first became interested in chemistry during high school and decided to pursue it in college. Now, she is a laboratory manager at Scripps Research, one of the top research facilities in the world specializing in biomedical sciences.
“I felt like chemistry helped make the world make a little bit of sense,” Tamara says. “It was so interesting to me that if we could understand these atoms and molecules, we could understand so much about the world around us.”
Being a first-generation college student brought some obstacles for Tamara. She felt that at times she did not have all of the tools and resources that other students had, but these barriers have not stopped her from getting to where she is now.
After graduating from college, she taught high school chemistry for two years. She discovered that teaching about chemistry made the subject even more fascinating and showed her new ways to explore it. She realized she wanted to do more hands-on research in the chemistry field.
Tamara decided to go back to school for her master’s degree in chemistry, and she became more involved in hands-on organic chemistry research. After gaining experience in different laboratories, Tamara landed her current job as a lab manager.
“There was a small part of me that was a little terrified to be [at the Scripps lab] because of my background, because I was first-generation and I didn’t know if I belonged here,” she says. “A lot of people here have strong, strong science backgrounds. They have legacies. They have families that are in science. But after having been here, it’s been more reassuring and more affirming [that] this is where I belong. I am just as capable and I’m here for a reason.”
Tamara says that there are no “typical” days for her in the lab. Her main priority is to ensure that all of the researchers have the equipment they need and to solve problems that may arise. As a manager, she is the face of the lab — if anyone needs anything, they will go to Tamara first.
Her lab focuses on two concepts called total synthesis and electrochemical methodology. Total synthesis is the idea of building a particular molecule from scratch to create a medicinal product using the most environmentally friendly methods. Electrochemical methodology is a process of studying new ways to make chemical bonds that will help her and her team make these molecules.
Tamara was published recently in three different research papers at the lab, which was a huge accomplishment for her.
While Tamara was completing her master’s program in the midst of the pandemic, she began posting about her experiences and chemistry knowledge on her Instagram and TikTok accounts. She has made a name for herself over the past couple years as a reliable and entertaining source for chemistry knowledge on social media.
Many of her videos involve explaining chemistry concepts, sharing advice for students and sharing experiences from the lab. Chemistry can be daunting for those who are not in the science field, and Tamara enjoys being able to share accurate information in a way that is accessible and fun.
From knowing which cleaning supplies are most efficient to understanding how our medications work, chemistry is constantly a part of our lives, and this is what Tamara hopes to show the people watching her videos.
Tamara’s social media presence has led to exciting opportunities for her. Television producers recently reached out to her after seeing her TikTok videos and invited her to be on their show to talk about chemistry.
Along with her Instagram and TikTok, Tamara started her own small business called Element and Molecule, combining her interests in science and art.
Tamara has always used drawing as a creative outlet and stress reliever, and she figured out a way to bring out the artistic side of chemistry. She came up with her Hydrogen-Hydrangea design, which combines a flowery design with the chemical element of hydrogen, and her followers loved it.
She began designing more fun, colorful stickers based on the periodic table of elements and sold them on her Etsy shop.
Element and Molecule has led Tamara to more artistic opportunities like art consulting, through which people have asked her to design their chemistry-related tattoos for them.
Though Tamara has been taking a break from this side business, she hopes to start it back up again in the future.
Moving forward, Tamara hopes to continue to thrive in both her laboratory work and on social media.
“I’m super happy and super fortunate to be where I am,” she says. “There’s a lot I still want to learn. There’s more chemistry I want to do.”
She hopes to start posting more videos on her YouTube, where she can post longer, more in-depth videos about chemistry.
As a busy and multifaceted woman, Tamara believes it is vital to check in with herself and her mental health.
“What’s bringing you joy?” she asks. “What is dragging you down? What areas make you excited in life? And what areas are a little bit dragging? Just bringing a lot of those to your mind can help you discern what is worth giving your time to and what is worth pushing away.”
For Tamara, “she can be both” is about breaking down assumptions about what a successful career looks like.
“No matter what, if you want to achieve it, you can break through all of the assumptions, you can break through all of those layers and you can redefine what you want,” Tamara says. “That’s life — to fit what you’re able to do and what you’re wanting to do. And that can be anything.”