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Jennifer Hamilton

University of California, Berkeley

Jennifer Hamilton’s grandfather was a NASA engineer, and though he died when she was young, she heard stories about his work and read the press clippings her family had saved about his career.

“He got to be part of this really big community of scientists that were all working together to achieve something bigger than themselves,” Hamilton said. “That’s probably what was my first spark of interest in science.”

Hamilton’s own passion for science has put her in a similar position. As a postdoc in the University of California, Berkeley, lab of the recent Nobel winner Jennifer Doudna, Hamilton helped set up a Covid-19 testing network for the campus and the local community earlier this year. The pandemic, she said, is the closest she’s felt to what her grandfather experienced, “when so many people have stepped up and are working toward a common goal.”

Outside of Covid-19, Hamilton works on solving one of the major hurdles researchers face when trying to make CRISPR-based therapies: delivering the genome editor to the exact spot you want it to go. Some tissues aren’t easy targets, so Hamilton has been studying how to use viruses — which have an incredible knack for infecting particular cells — as Trojan horses to ferry the genome editing tools into the desired cells.

—  Andrew Joseph