Former Rutgers professor to appear on CBS show 'Mission Unstoppable' for work in STEM

Ronke Olabisi, former Rutgers assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, will appear on an episode of the CBS series, “Mission Unstoppable.”
Photo by Photo by Linkedin | The Daily TargumRonke Olabisi, former Rutgers assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, will appear on an episode of the CBS series, “Mission Unstoppable.”

Ronke Olabisi, former Rutgers assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, will be featured on the Feb. 22 episode of the CBS series, “Mission Unstoppable,” to share findings on using oyster shells in the health-science field. 

By taking inspiration from the Mayans and their ancient discovery, with using seashells as bone implants, Olabisi is working on a new way to mend bones and improve modern dentistry utilizing the oyster shell, according to press materials on the show.

The materials stated the half-hour, weekly series features women who are on the forefront of scientific change, seeking and making positive advances in the global community one way or another.

Some key players that make the series possible and ready to air every Saturday morning include Lyda Hill Philanthropies, which produces the show in partnership with IF/THEN Coalition Member Litton Entertainment, Academy Awards winner Geena Davis and Miranda Cosgrove, who executive produces and hosts the show, according to the press materials. 

Many of the women showcased on the show are zoologists, astronauts, codebreakers, oceanographers or engineers like Olabisi, according to the materials. 

Olabisi said she initially became curious with the unique capabilities of oyster shells when her first postdoctoral advisor was researching the molecular structure of nacre — a calcium carbonate crystal. 

“A lot of research is just, ‘I wonder what would happen if ... ’ and then just poking around until something interesting falls out,” Olabisi said.

Olabisi said bones are a biomineral and so is nacre. When you suffer from a bad fracture, need to get your spine fused or undergo any procedure calling for new bone growth, physicians use a growth factor that causes bone to grow. 

She said the problem arises when that growth factor diffuses from where it was intended to be, demanding the need to use a lot more of it — a thousand times more than what is produced naturally.

It is during complications like these, she said, that nacre can be employed as a good substitute biomaterial to use in bone implants and the stimulation of bone growth. 

“Nacre is a calcium carbonate crystal that when made by oysters is 3,000 times stronger than geologic calcium carbonate,” Olabisi said. “This is (due to) an intricate architecture that nacre proteins control. If we can harness this control, we may be able to make better biomaterials and control where bone forms.”

Olabisi said she has also designed a manned mission to Mars in Russia, designed an automated system that would allow paralyzed people to independently mount and dismount horses, has lengthened bones as a graduate student and has grown bone as a postdoctor. 

She also spoke on the topic of gender gaps existing in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“It’s all I’ve known. I went to (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) as an undergrad, so everyone was in STEM. It wasn’t until I was in grad school that I had female friends who weren’t in STEM,” Olabisi said. “Then I began to notice I was often the only woman in my classes. And that there were stereotypes and assumptions that preceded me. The older I get, the more I realize it’s a thing.”

Olabisi said she feels that all women in any male-dominated field have some level of imposter syndrome. But, she also believes that now that society begins to recognize the gender gap as a phenomenon, it is increasingly becoming a topic we have started inoculating each other against it. 

“My favorite example is Frances Kelsey, who got rejected from every graduate program except the one that thought she was a man. She got her doctorate and served as an FDA reviewer when thalidomide came across her desk. She wanted to see the company show whether the drug could cross the placenta,” Olabisi said. “In 40 other countries, the regulatory people were men and did not ask such questions, despite the drug being marketed to pregnant women. As a result, the United States avoided the 10,000 (and more) babies born with missing limbs that the rest of the world suffered. Diverse people bring diverse perspectives, which in this case saved the United States from tragedy.”

Olabisi said she is grateful for the change she feels is under the works thanks to shows like “Mission Unstoppable.”

“I think with programs like this, it can shift the paradigm so that women in STEM is no longer about a sense of “belonging” and more about interest. That’s my hope, anyway,” Olabisi says. 

Matthew Crommett, an executive at Lyda Hill Philanthropies, also spoke on why he felt it was important to actively present female figures in the media.

Recent findings by Lyda Hill Philanthropies and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media suggest that just 37 (percent) of STEM professionals portrayed in television and film are women,” Crommett said. "Having a fictional or non-fictional STEM role model increases the proportion of girls interested in getting a job in the sector by 20 (percent), according to a 2018 Microsoft survey.”

As a STEM professional, Olabisi said she remembers the times in college where she felt she was under-represented in the same field she so passionately enjoys.

“In engineering, I never had a female professor nor a black professor at any point during any of my degrees. I am certain that that kind of isolation contributes to feelings of imposter syndrome, both in myself and anyone who is 'the only one' in their field,” Olabisi said. “The notion that ‘if she can see it she can be it rings true. That even if you may not see it where you are, we exist and you can do it too. I have seen how much role models can inspire kids, and if I can help in any way, I am humbled and honored to do so.”

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article referred to the show as "Mission Impossible" and attributed some quotes to a public relations consultant.