Diverse Famous Microbiologists

Microbiology is a branch of biology that studies organisms that are too small to be seen with the naked eye. Focusing on essential-to-life microbes like bacteria, fungi, and viruses, microbiologists have made critical contributions to how we understand the world around us.

famous microbiologists and their contributions

Diverse Famous Microbiologists and Their Contributions

Dr. Aisha Burton

Dr. Aisha Burton grew up in Chicago and was encouraged by her AP Chemistry teacher to pursue science. After falling in love with microbiology while pursuing her undergraduate degree, Burton had to push through graduate school rejections, difficult labs, lack of representation, and frequent microaggressions to eventually earn her Ph.D.


Today, she’s an award-winning microbiologist studying the regulatory roles of small proteins on two-component systems in Escherichia coli while teaching at Montgomery College in Rockville, Md. She spends her free time volunteering with initiatives to support diversity in STEM and mentoring students.


Although she saw few people whom she identified with while rising in her career, Burton says that she now knows many other Black microbiologists within her community.


“I’m so excited for the future generations of scientists coming behind me,” she said in an interview with the American Society for Microbiology.


Learn more about Dr. Aisha Burton here.


Squire Booker, Ph.D.

Growing up, Squire Booker was always fascinated by science, encouraged by his family to pursue an active role in learning more about the sciences. After undergrad at Austin College, he earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry from MIT.


As he conducted research at different universities across the country and around the globe, Booker began to notice the deep connection between microbiology and chemistry, continuing to conduct experiments to learn more.


He hopes to be able to pass down the ability to explore different sciences to his students, just like he’s been able to throughout his career. As a professor at Evan Pugh University and the Eberly Family Distinguished Chair in Science at Penn State, he encourages students to get involved with organizations that support students from underrepresented backgrounds- programs that he didn’t have while in school.


“To future scientists from diverse backgrounds, I would say stay away from people who are negative,” Booker said in an interview with the American Society for Microbiology, “Drift toward people who are positive and who hold you up rather than put you down.”


Learn more about Squire Booker’s work here.


Dr. Carla Bonilla

Dr. Carla Bonilla is a Salvadorian immigrant who overcame tremendous obstacles to pursue her dreams. After facing the hardships that come with being undocumented throughout her early education, Bonilla worked to earn both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in biology, as well as becoming a permanent U.S. resident.


While she studied for her Master’s degree at San Francisco State University, Dr. Leticia Márquez-Magaña, one of her professors, took Bonilla under her wing and gave her the confidence to pursue her PhD. She earned her doctorate from the University of California San Francisco in cell biology, where she had the mentorship of another professor, Dr. David Toczyski.


Inspired by both mentors she had, Bonilla became a professor herself to work with undergraduate students and help them grow.


“Believing in students, believing that students can continue to learn, believing there’s potential in folks—that makes all the difference,” Bonilla said to the American Society for Microbiology.


Learn more about Dr. Carla Bonilla’s journey here


Dr. Oladele Ogunseitan

Dr. Oladele Ogunseitan grew up in Ilesa, Nigeria, where he was insatiably curious about science and the world around him. He turned this curiosity into a Master’s degree in microbiology with a dream to become a professor. In an effort to fulfill this dream, he moved to the U.S. to earn his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.


He became a professor in 1992 at UC Irvine, researching the impact that toxic metal pollution has on the environment. His work led him to also earn a Master’s degree in public health, diving into the health ramifications of e-waste and metal pollution. Today, he’s one of the leading researchers of the health hazards and environmental impacts that e-waste can have.


Throughout his journey, Ogunseitan credits consistent mentorship and collaboration to helping him get to where he is today. He now works to mentor his own students and provide them with opportunities.


“Don’t leave because you’re feeling uncomfortable,” he said to the American Society for Microbiology, “You [might] raise your hand [and] nobody [will] call on you. You can think whatever the reason is, but don’t leave. Because I think, ultimately, you get the respect and the participation that you seek. And importantly, you’re a role model for others…Your experience at that time will always count for something when you’re telling others [to] come along.”


Learn more about Dr. Oladele Ogunseitan here.


Rebecca Pollet, Ph.D.

Growing up on a farm, Rebecca Pollet was exposed to the real-world applications of science her entire life. Her childhood experiences, along with an encouraging high school teacher, led her to earn both a Bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. in biochemistry.


While she worked toward her Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, she struggled to find fellow scientists whom she identified with. As a member of the Cherokee Nation and a first-generation college student, she understood the importance of having a role model that you could relate to about their specific experiences.


Today, along with being a professor at Vassar College, Pollet is the co-founder and coordinator of Diversify Microbiology, an online resource of scientists who come from historically underrepresented backgrounds.


Learn more about Rebecca Pollet here.


Blake Ushijima, Ph.D.

Born and raised in Hawai’i, Blake Ushijima developed a love for marine biology early in his childhood. After earning his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and completing an internship at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology, Ushijima was able to combine his passions for both marine biology and microbiology into a Ph.D. from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.


Ushijima credits the real-world experiences that he had throughout his education for his focus on environmental microbiology research. He has conducted groundbreaking research into stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD), a new disease that is damaging the Caribbean coral populations, working with the Smithsonian Marine Station and later the University of North Carolina Wilmington to learn more.


On top of his research, Ushijima is a professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He actively works to create a community for both students and colleagues, emphasizing the importance of both surrounding yourself with diverse perspectives and those who have had similar experiences to you.


“When you don’t have diversity, you’re narrowing a field’s view,” he said to the American Society for Microbiology, “Different people bring in different points of view [and] different ways to approach things. You don’t need an Ivy League pedigree background to be a good scientist—[and] you don’t need that to have a good idea, either. The more points of view you can have, the more ways you can attack a problem.”


Learn more about Blake Ushijima here.



Interested in becoming a microbiologist yourself? Check out one of your many field options, medical microbiology, here!