The perfect blend of beauty and brains, Dr. Imee Su Martinez, Professor at the Institute of Chemistry, has always been curious about the “how and why” of things around her. She studied at the Philippine Science High School, which influenced her to pursue a career in science.
During her undergraduate days, Dr. Martinez used to freelance model as a side hustle, which eventually led to her stint in pageantry as a Binibining Pilipinas candidate in 2001. Donning a red gown during the evening gown competition, she graced the stage with poise and confidence— something she could never do inside laboratories.
“I had friends working in the modeling industry, also people from CAL, and they encouraged me to do modeling gigs and eventually join the Binibining Pilipinas pageant. This can be a sensitive issue to women’s liberation, as pageants may lead to the objectification of women. However pageants are also possible platforms for women to further their advocacies, it can be a very good resource that can be tapped to encourage participation from the general public — mine back then was environmental conservation and of course, world peace!”, Dr. Martinez recalls.
One pageant was enough for Dr. Martinez, she left the glitz and glamour of pageantry to become more immersed with her advocacies, which is the environment and world peace, in this case the peaceful use of chemistry. Her projects are mostly focused on climate change, green chemistry and environmentally relevant studies. She is also currently serving as a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
“I have always known that show business has a shelf life, the limelight doesn’t last. I also missed the complexity of science and research, the challenges they present, the more tangible rewards they can give to society.”
Dr. Martinez is specializing in physical and surface chemistry. Her research interests are currently on chiral studies of molecules using non-linear spectroscopy, second harmonic imaging of sea cucumber mutable collagenous tissues, nanosafety and carbon capture using ionic liquids.
Dr. Martinez hopes to see more female students pursue physical chemistry as their specialization.
“Physical chemistry is not really a glamorous field, the way we normally perceive glamor, as it involves a lot of laborious work like machine work, building equipment, glass blowing, and other physically challenging activities. You can be doused in pump oil for days! Students who graduated from my group were all males, I hope to have a female graduate student finish from our laboratory.”
Dr. Martinez reiterates the importance of having a supportive environment in nurturing one’s scientific growth. “Find a school or workplace that is supportive of women. Those that provide the essentials such as breastfeeding stations, day care centers, or women-centered programs”, she says.
Despite women breaking glass ceilings and breaking stereotypes, Dr. Martinez believes that women are still perceived as dependent on men, and are often put into boxes or stereotypes. “Women are quite strong; in fact, we can tolerate more pain compared to men because we are designed by nature to endure childbirth. It is not right to judge women based on their looks, just because they wear make-up or dress in a certain manner, it doesn’t mean they are not capable! Don’t put women in boxes, we come in various shapes and form. It is our choice how we make ourselves relevant, and how we want to contribute to society. Women, if they are interested enough can achieve anything! Women nowadays date or marry by choice, not because they still need men to provide for them.”
For Dr. Martinez, science can be a difficult field to pursue, but she still wants to see more women establish a career in the sciences and hopes to see them become empowered and accomplished women.
“Science is really a demanding mistress! One has to focus, as it requires attention to details, even to the nanoscale! For young girls planning to pursue this journey with little to no opportunities, please do not be discouraged! Look for opportunities that can help you achieve your goals. Remember that the only winner of the Nobel Prize in two science categories is a woman! We all know her!”