Women In STEM Series: Dr. Krisztina Voronova

By Brooke Hess

Dr. Krisztina Voronova is a physical chemist and a chemistry professor at University of Nevada, Reno. She also founded the Discover Chemistry Demonstration Series, an outreach program for K-12 elementary students with the goal of increasing awareness and excitement about the sciences. The Hitchcock Project spoke with Dr. Voronova about her work, the outreach program, and the challenges she has experienced in her STEM career.

Dr. Krisztina Voronova stands holding her award which reads "University of Nevada, Reno College of Science recognizes Krisztina Voronova, Department of Chemistry, LeMay Award For Excellence In Teaching, 2021"
Dr. Krisztina Voronova was awarded the LeMay Award for Excellence In Teaching in 2021. This is a teaching award nominated by students in the Department of Chemistry. Photo courtesy of Krisztina Voronova.

HP: Can you tell us about your research?

KV: I am a physical chemist, and I’m excited about building instruments and the study of small molecules. We aim to derive accurate thermochemical data for small species in the atmosphere and in combustion chemistry. Lately, my focus has been shifted towards education and outreach. In 2019, I founded the Discover Chemistry Demonstration Series, and in a little bit over a year, we were able to reach out to over 5,000 K-12 kids, which was amazing. Unfortunately, we had to stop the program due to the pandemic, but we are restarting it now. 

During the summer, we had a really nice event with the Dean’s Future Scholars program. They are an academic outreach program with the goal of increasing the number of low income first generation students graduating from high school and gaining access to education.

My outreach efforts have been recognized by the American Chemical Society in 2020, so it was really cool to receive the Outreach Volunteer of the Year award.

elementary-aged students gasp in wonder at some white-colored foam bursting out of a soda bottle on a playground
The Discover Chemistry Demonstration Series is an outreach program initiated by Krisztina Voronova and Kimberly Hernandez.

HP: What drew you to science?

KV: I don’t know, I’m just interested in things! It’s interesting to figure out why something happens. Chemistry helps me gain knowledge about everything. I’m just generally interested about things and trying to ask questions and answer them. 

Elementary-aged students wearing green and clear safety goggles watch a chemistry demonstration. White fog is moving across the table in front of them.
The Discover Chemistry Demonstration Series collaborates with the Dean’s Future Scholars Program, an academic outreach program with the goal of increasing the number of low-income, first-generation students graduating from high school and gaining access to higher education.

HP: Have you had any challenges in your STEM career?

KV: A myriad of challenges! The biggest challenge is probably coming from the fact that I was born in Transcarpathia. It’s a multi-ethnic group on the Western border of Ukraine, and it’s largest minority are the Hungarians. I am Hungarian and we keep our native language. So I went to a Hungarian school K-12, then when I decided I wanted to go to university, I had to switch to Ukrainian language. So I basically learned all my subjects in Hungarian, then switched to Ukrainian for my bachelor’s and my master’s degree. And then I made another switch when I was admitted to a PhD program in Hungary learning everything again in Hungarian.

So that was probably the most challenging part, especially the first few years of my undergraduate studies. It was really hard to take notes in a different language. Of course, I spoke Ukrainian, but it was still harder than for an average person who takes notes in their native language.

Young elementary-aged students wear safety goggles and watch as blue foam builds out of a pink bowl in the middle of a school room
The Discover Chemistry Demonstration Series performs vibrant, exciting, chemistry-based experiments for guests on campus and during visits to Washoe County School District elementary, middle, and high schools.

HP: Do you have any advice for young women who are looking to start careers in STEM, or who are interested in science?

KV: Stay curious. Don’t be afraid to ask the questions. Work hard and the answer will come to you at some point. 

Elementary-aged students wear safety goggles and watch in awe as a chemistry demonstration is performed
The Discover Chemistry Demonstration Series reached over 5,000 K-12 students in the first thirteen months.

In addition to her accomplishments with the Discover Chemistry Demonstration Series, Dr. Krisztina Voronova received the LeMay Excellence in Teaching Award this year from UNR College of Science. Congratulations Dr. Voronova!

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