2013 Winner: Leaders of Tomorrow sponsored by Alberta Enterprise and Advanced Education
Researcher Blends Creativity And Science To Build Community
Throughout her 23 years, Ms. Megan Engel has been guided by her Christian faith and its basic tenet to love and serve others. She does this through music and art, philanthropy and science.
“I am inspired by many people, but J.R.R. Tolkien has been a major influence,” says Alberta’s most recent Rhodes Scholar. “He believed in the power of individual creativity and service to others.”
Ms. Engel will begin her PhD at Oxford in the fall. There she will continue to work on the frontiers of nanotechnology studying photosynthesis. Ms. Engel’s research at the National Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Alberta has already contributed to the science community’s efforts to better understand the biological folding process of proteins and nucleic acids to conquer diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s that result when molecules misfold.
Inspired by Science
Ms. Engel’s father is a high-school physics teacher with a passion for science that his daughter has adopted.
“I love problem-solving,” she says, adding that her dream job is to be a University of Alberta professor. “Being a researcher in a university gives you the freedom to investigate problems, to find interesting tangents in a code you wrote for a completely different purpose and pursue new leads – like Sherlock Holmes, in a way.”
Ms. Engel is committed to interdisciplinary study in science and in her life. She is equally dedicated to art and philosophy as to science, and sees them as inextricably intertwined in order to live a rich and fulfilling life experience.
“Interdisciplinary work is fundamental to who I am and it fuels my scientific drive,” she says.
An accomplished musician, Engel frequently sings and plays piano for corporate events, birthdays, award ceremonies. To support her studies, she formed a business in 2004 that provides wedding music.
Ms. Engel’s spirit of citizenship led her to found the University of Alberta Tolkien Society. She sees the society as a community for sharing and fostering members’ gifts – literary, artistic, culinary and musical – with the support of other members and with Tolkien’s legacy as a creative genius as a guiding force.
“Creativity is so important for science,” Ms. Engel says. “By extension, being involved in arts is beneficial for scientists. We’ve adopted Tolkien’s world view that we are all gifted and we are called on to use all of our gifts in our lives.”
The society has developed a philanthropic focus where members give back to the community and encourage literacy by reading to students in schools.
To increase its impact, Ms. Engel led the publication of a podcast series of the Tolkien Society’s academic discussions, hosted on a website that she designed. She also hosted a series of guest lectures and media appearances that established the University of Alberta in the global Tolkien community. The society was named ‘Best Student Group’ on the University of Alberta campus in 2012-2013.
Ms. Engel’s dedication to science is matched by her sense of duty and her drive to accomplish something meaningful. She continues to redraw the boundaries of what’s possible, establishing herself as a leader today and for tomorrow.