Photo by Dawn Harmer 

As a young girl growing up in Puerto Rico, Darya Marchany Rivera was drawn to anything having to do with science. She began participating in science fairs in 7th grade, and in 10th grade she was part of a sample preparation workshop/competition for protein crystallization in microgravity by high school students held by NASA and the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez. That same year she also presented a crystallization project at the International Science Fair celebrated in Cleveland, OH. Inspired in part by Ms. Marisol Colon, her wonderful high school chemistry teacher, Darya discovered that she excelled at conducting research and experiments and never looked back.

She went on to the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) to major in Chemistry. She was able to work in the lab of the professor who ran that high school competition, Dr. Juan Lopez Garriga, allowing her to focus on crystallization. She liked solving crystals and making models.

A core focus of the National Science Foundation’s BioXFEL Science and Technology Center beyond the biological applications of X-ray lasers is to engage and build a culturally and academically diverse, inclusive community of scholars expert in this new area. As part of its outreach efforts to students at the University of Puerto Rico, Professor Elspeth Garman from Oxford University (a longtime collaborator with HWI) invited Darya to the 2nd Annual NSF BioXFEL International Conference.

Darya said, “When I starting working with BioXFEL, I was able to do more data collection and processing. I really understood how using technology could help to optimize our research.”

It was through BioXFEL that Darya knew she had found her scientific peers. She met the BioXFEL team and scientists from Hauptman-Woodward Institute (HWI) at the international conference, and was able to do a graduate internship at HWI in Buffalo in the summer of 2015.

“I really liked Buffalo,” Darya said. “The team at HWI was very welcoming and very supportive. They were always willing to help me when I had questions or needed advice. I ended up being there with several undergrads from the University of Puerto Rico who I didn’t know beforehand. It was here for the first time I got to work with a diffractometer, which they have in-house at HWI. I worked with this on my own, which was really nice. The lab was better suited for this type of work because it was specific to crystallization.”

Darya was able to advance farther in her research than she had anticipated during her summer at HWI. It was during her time at HWI, through conversation with Dr. William Bauer, Education and Diversity Director for the NSF BioXFEL Center, that Darya realized she could become a staff scientist at a national lab. When she returned to UPR, a few incidents caused setbacks in her lab, coupled with the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Fortunately for Darya, through relationships she had built through HWI and BioXFEL, she was able to go to Stanford University/SLAC National Laboratory with four other students to continue her work with another HWI collaborator. She stayed there for almost a year – longer than she had expected – and continued making connections with people who have helped her in her career.   

She even came full circle to her start in science fairs when she organized the Puerto Rico High School Protein Crystallization Competition in 2017. Darya became a BioXFEL fellow in 2018.

“Darya was instrumental in the development of BioXFEL programming for UPR researchers,” according to Dr. Bauer. “Not only was she one of our first UPR graduate student interns, she also assisted with creating scientific workshops, identifying the needs of the students, and is now on the NSF BioXFEL Education and Diversity Committee. After Hurricane Maria devastated the island, we reached out to all of our UPR colleagues to offer assistance. This was very challenging considering all of the island’s communication systems were compromised. However, as soon as we contacted Darya, she took the lead, organized the students, and helped us deliver to the students most in need. Her leadership, organizational skills, and scientific intuition will certainly help her become a leader in the field.”

Darya has now graduated with her PhD and will be doing her post-doctoral work with another BioXFEL partner, Dr. Brenda Hogue, at Arizona State University.

“I am so grateful that I was introduced to the BioXFEL community,” Darya said. “I wouldn’t be where I am in my career without their community of scientists.”

HWI and the BioXFEL program gave an opportunity for a young girl growing up in Puerto Rico to now contribute to cutting edge research as part of the BioXFEL program. She made connections and gave back to her community acting as a role model for other students that may not have seen the potential opportunities available for them. Darya, now Dr. Marchany Rivera, is joining Dr. Brenda Hogue and her research as a leading virologist in the study of coronaviruses. The research could not be timelier.