Black Icons in Science

Black Icons in Science


Reginald Smith, molecular biologist at General Electric (GE), is the lead scientist on a cell technology program at the company that explores new techniques and technology to efficiently produce stem cells. He has several patents under his belt, with one pending that covers instrumentation that will be used by the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries for real-time quality control as well as faster production of protein-based drugs.

In the third of a three-part series on digeratis who are reshaping the world, Smith talked with about how his research can benefit the health of African Americans and how it’s cool to be a black scientist. How did you become interested in your career field?

Reginald Smith: I’ve been fascinated by biology from a very young age, so much that I had the intention early on of pursuing medicine as a career. However, I discovered and fell in love with chemistry in high school, leading me to eventually study biochemistry at the undergraduate and graduate levels and select biomedical research as a career focus.

What are some of the challenges African Americans face in the science and technology fields?

The combination of low expectations and the common perception that science is “hard” represents a formidable barrier to the entry of young African Americans into science and engineering fields.

Low expectations come from both within and outside the African American community.  From within, it creates self-doubt, while from outside, it makes it less likely that you will be taken seriously if you aspire to become, or even at times if you already are, a scientist.

How did you overcome those challenges?

There have been times in the past that I have simply had to work harder to convince peers and superiors of my capabilities. I have also been fortunate to have teachers that have both indulged and inspired me, as well as parents, who’ve provided unswerving support and encouragement every step of the way. In addition, I work for an outstanding company which supports diversity in the workplace and reviews positions based on performance.

How are you going to take your career to the next level?

I am looking forward to working toward developing myself as a thought leader and someone who influences the direction of particular areas of biomedical research.

How can the type of technology you work with be beneficial to the black community?

I have been particularly interested in sickle cell disease, which was the area of study during my postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health.

While not exclusive to African Americans and other people of sub-Saharan African descent, it is commonly thought of as being prominent in African Americans and is usually most severe in these populations.

Currently, the only cure is a bone marrow transplant. Finding a matched donor in the African American community is typically more difficult than in the American population as a whole.

My colleagues and I at the GE Global Research center are currently working on technologies to improve the harvesting of stem cells from umbilical cords (after birth) which have been shown