Dr. Malika Jeffries-EL is a Professor of Chemistry at Boston University, performing exciting work developing organic semiconductors. Semiconductors are a key component of solar panels, light displays, and electronics – everything from your phone to your computer to your TV depends on them – because they allow electricity to flow in controlled ways. Normally they’re made up of materials like silicon and rare-earth metals, but Jeffries-EL is studying ways to make them out of plastics -organic polymers (carbon-based chains) offer expanded opportunities (like covering different types of surfaces) and can be made cheaper & more efficiently than conventional ones.
Jeffries-EL grew up in Brooklynn, New York. She had always been interested in how things work and, as a child, seeing Mae Jemison become the first African-American woman in space inspired her to believe that she could become a doctor. Before she could earn a Ph.D., however, she’d need to complete college – and no one in her immediate family had done that before.
But that didn’t stop her – with the encouragement of her mother, who tragically died during Malika’s sophomore year, she pursued her dreams and earned a B.A. in Chemistry and Africana Studies from Wellesley College in 1996. She continued on to receive a Ph.D. in Chemistry from The George Washington University and, after post-doctoral fellowships at Smith College and Carnegie Mellon University, she joined Iowa State University in 2005, receiving tenure in 2012. From 2014-2015 she carried out research at MIT as a Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor, then in 2016, she joined Boston University’s Chemistry department as a tenured professor, where she continues to make waves.
In addition to her scientific contributions, she volunteers on numerous committees and boards including several aimed at increasing diversity in science. Jeffries-EL was made a fellow of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in 2018 and her many other honors and awards include an NSF CAREER Award (2009), the ACS Women Chemist Committee Rising Star Award (2012), the Stanley C. Israel Regional Award for Advancing Diversity in the Chemical Sciences (2015), the Iota Sigma Pi Agnes Fay Morgan Research Award (2013).
I’d also like to give a shout-out to Dr. Jess Wade who created a much-deserved Wikipedia page for Jeffries-EL last year. Thank you both for your great contributions to the science and society!