Chemistry Ph.D candidate honored as outstanding young chemist

Sam Yruegas, Baylor Chemistry PhD student, has been named as the element Erbium (Er) on the “Periodic Table of Younger Chemists” by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.

By Courtney Doucet | Reporter

Baylor Chemistry Ph.D student, Sam Yruegas, has been named as the element Erbium (Er) on the “Periodic Table of Younger Chemists” by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). The honor recognizes Yruegas as one of 118 high-performing young chemists.

The honor was given as a part of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry’s 100th year anniversary celebration as a way to exemplify young chemists from around the world who embody the mission and core values of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry through their research and advocacy. Yruegas was nominated by her department for the award.

“It was pretty exciting. It was a total surprise. I jumped up and down and screamed. It’s really crazy because it’s an international award; so, there’s not that many chemists from the U.S that are on there,” Yruegas said.

Yruegas is a first-generation college student, and one of 2 percent of Hispanic Women who are active in the STEM field, according to the National Science Foundation. She sees being named on the Periodic Table of Younger Chemists not only as an accomplishment for herself, but for other minorities who are currently pursuing or wish to pursue working in the sciences.

“It means a lot to me. It’s not just being Hispanic, but being a minority in general. There’s not a lot of us in the STEM field. Growing up you could have never told that I would be a chemist,” Yruegas said. “I think it’s really important to be able to look at people who have your background or look like you and see them accomplishing things because it gives aspirations and also the hope that stuff is not hopeless. You can get somewhere if you work hard enough and if you have a good support system. I’m happy, I hope that it helps other people, and that’s what I try to do in my own life every day. Pretty much all of the undergraduates I mentor are minorities as well.”

Yruegas advocates for other minorities in the STEM field through her involvement in the Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists. Yruegas work as a mentor with undergraduate students here at Baylor.

“The first year I started I got an undergraduate through the National Sciences Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergrads. I get them [the undergraduates] for about ten weeks and most of the time they have zero research experience and they’ve never been in a lab before. So, I get to mentor them and teach them the staples of research and how to read the literature, perform the techniques and hopefully encourage them to apply to graduate school,” Yruegas said.

Yruegas also hopes she can spread her interest in science as a way to aid those who are not in the STEM field by discussing and sharing her research.

“If you’re good at something, you want to share it with the world. [Chemistry] happens to be the one little thing that I am ok at, and I think it would be great to show people that science and science policies are understandable at a level for the general public — and to be an advocate for science most of all,” she said.

Assistant professor Dr. Caleb Martin, who works closely with Yruegas on her research, notices her work ethic as what ultimately won her the award.

“Samantha has not only been an extremely productive researcher in her graduate career contributing to 12 publications to date but has also carved out time for outreach activities at Baylor and in the surrounding community,” Martin said.

Yruegas is set to graduate in August and is in the beginning stages of composing her dissertation. She will be hosting one of four of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry’s Global Women’s Breakfasts 8 to 10 a.m. Feb. 12 in the Baylor Science Building.