#BreakTheBias: Ghanaian Scientist Danielle Twum Gets A Statue Raised For Her In United States

by Duke Magazine

“You have no one to compete with but yourself, so don’t let anyone worry you out.” Danielle Twum, a cancer immunologist from Ghana, West Africa, was recently honored in the United States for her research contributions.

Twum is one of over a hundred women honored by the Smithsonian during Women’s History Month, and she is one of them. The Smithsonian Institution’s “#IfThenSheCan — The Exhibit,” which features 120 life-size 3D statues of women who have excelled in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, was launched this month (STEM).

The show will be on display in the Smithsonian Gardens in Washington, D.C., as well as other Smithsonian museums, from March 5 to 27. According to the museum, this is the largest collection of women statues ever assembled.

Twum, a Ghanaian, is honored to be a part of the exhibition. She traveled to the United States in 2007 and investigated the effects of climate change on coral bleaching at Vassar College, where she earned a B.A. in Biology. Twum investigated the immunology of breast cancer metastasis for her Ph.D. in Cancer Immunology at the University of Buffalo.

Twum, a field applications scientist whose purpose is to make science interesting for everyone, began her research in college investigating coral bleaching in sea anemones but switched to cancer research after her uncle died of brain cancer in his mid-30s.


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In an interview with TechSech.co, Twum said, “I always wanted to understand cancer that killed him.” “We both had the same birthday.” I applied to Roswell Park for their summer program because of Uncle Kofi, and I was accepted into their doctoral program.”

Twum earned the distinguished Emerging Scholars Award from the National Cancer Institute in 2017 while a graduate student at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center (NCI). As a third-year pre-doctoral candidate at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, she had given a talk at TEDxBuffalo 2015 two years prior. ‘Guardians of Your Inner Galaxy’ was the title of her talk.

Later, the Ghanaian scientist would work for a startup as a field applications scientist. In 2020, she said to TechSech.co, “This means I do trials on the company’s system at client sites and troubleshoot whatever snag I could have met during an outside experiment on our systems in-house.” “One of the best aspects of my profession is that no two days are the same.” This teaches me to be adaptable and ready for everything that comes my way.”

“My days are also punctuated by phone calls with scholars who are interested in our technology.” “I find it exciting to observe our product improve with time and to know that I contributed to the manufacturing process,” she said.

It’s been claimed that who you learn from is important. Almost everyone benefits from mentorship in their career and personal development. Twum has had individuals working behind the scenes to help her realize her potential and stay on track as she grows. She has been pushed to where she is today by instructors and other mentors, in addition to her family and community.

“It would not have been possible without the help of my mentors.” Mrs. Opare, my senior high school chemistry teacher, was the first person to unofficially expose me to scientific communication. She would use analogies from everyday life to explain chemical reactions. I began my research in Prof. Jodi Schwarz’s lab, where I studied coral bleaching in sea anemones. Jodi urged me to apply to the summer research program at Roswell Park, and the rest is history.”

Twum is now an If/Then ambassador for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where she is working to raise the awareness of women in STEM as role models for young girls. She’s done so via social media, speaking engagements, and television appearances. She expressed her desire to normalize the image of a Black scientist “with an undercut and quirky lipstick and a fantastic fashion sense” on social media.

“I want young black girls to realize that becoming a scientist does not mean they have to fit into a mold; it means they get to create their own.”

The cancer immunologist is happy with the recognition she has received for her efforts. “I did not go into STEM to become a role model,” the Ghanaian scientist said of being among the women trailblazers honored in the Smithsonian exhibit. “But knowing that my path will inspire the future generation of scientists is an honor I do not take lightly, thank you.”

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