Jennifer Morales grew up in Mission, Texas, an economically challenged community on the Mexican border where traditional gender roles run deep. Women, she says, are expected to marry — not earn advanced degrees. But Morales fell in love with science in middle school and, encouraged by an inspiring teacher, defied those expectations. She received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Texas in 2011 and a PhD in bioengineering from Northeastern in 2018.
Morales’ research focused on using DNA to design simple, efficient nanosensors for biomedical purposes. Working in the lab of Bioengineering Professor Heather Clark, Morales developed nanosensors for measuring neurotransmitters and immune system markers (proteins) called cytokines as a way to gain real-time insights into neurotransmission and inflammation response. With Clark’s guidance, Morales played a leading role on a cytokine research project — obtaining grant funding, working with collaborators from medicine and industry, and publishing results[DR1]. During her doctoral years, she was first author on two papers, with a third in review.
A passionate advocate for women in science, Morales was active in Northeastern’s Graduate Women in Science and Engineering, mentored high school girls in greater Boston, and helped organize a “Girl Power Rally” in her hometown that drew over 1,700 adolescent girls in 2016. Morales, who is Mexican-American, dedicated her dissertation to the girls of Mission, “because their plight drives me, and when I succeed, they succeed.” She plans to conduct research at a national laboratory before going into academia.