Oregon Woman

Engineer and Scientist Arlyne Simon Wants to Inspire Children to Go into STEM

"I asked myself ... ‘What can I do to get more girls into science?’"

By Katherine Chew Hamilton March 27, 2021 Published in the Spring 2021 issue of Portland Monthly

Arlyne Simon

Image: Michael Novak

As a kid on the Caribbean island of Dominica, known for its picturesque waterfalls, black sand beaches, and tropical forests, Arlyne Simon was surrounded—and fascinated—by nature. She collected caterpillars from the garden and watched them turn into butterflies (or, less excitingly, moths). At age 5, she conducted her first experiment with her mom, testing whether sand, salt, and pepper sauce were soluble in water.

“That curiosity, I think, is what led me into a career in STEM,” Simon says.

Today, Dr. Arlyne Simon is a biomedical engineer who’s been recognized by the United States Patent and Trademark Office as a trailblazing female inventor. And through public speaking, mentorship, and her own children’s book company, she wants to help others—especially girls and kids of color—realize they, too, can become scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs.

Simon moved to the US to attend college at age 17, eventually landing at Georgia Tech as a chemical engineering major and working in biomimetics—the study and emulation of nature to solve problems.

But it was during her PhD studies in bioengineering at the University of Michigan that she says she “really gave birth to my creativity.” There, she worked on a blood test to detect when a cancer patient is rejecting a bone marrow transplant—a project for which she was issued her first patent in 2011. While still in her doctoral program, she launched a biotech start-up called PHASIQ with her professor and adviser Dr. Shuichi Takayama and a classmate, securing funding from the National Science Foundation.

“Arlyne quickly, over the course of a few months, went from just being a scientist and engineer to becoming an entrepreneur, innovator, [and] inventor,” Takayama says. “She’s creative beyond just science or engineering.”

A job offer at Intel brought her to Oregon, where she currently designs CAT scan and ultrasound machines. Meanwhile, she juggles roles as a mentor and speaker. As an ambassador in the If/Then program, she’s creating a set of STEM trading cards for kids to learn about real-life women scientists. She’s helped Girl Scouts in Atlanta develop business ideas and spoken at the Eugene
Science Center.

But of all the hats Simon wears, the one she’s most passionate about is her children’s book series, Abby Invents. “There was a period during my time at University of Michigan ... where I was the only woman in a lab of 17,” Simon says. “I asked myself ... ‘What can I do to get more girls into science or at least know about the possibility of becoming an inventor?’”

Her first book, Abby Invents: Unbreakable Crayons, was released in May 2018. An Afro puff–wearing inventor, Abby, gets frustrated by her crayons constantly breaking and sets out to design and patent the first unbreakable crayon. Simon’s second book, Abby Invents: The Foldibot, came out in February and follows Abby as she collaborates with her cousin to create a laundry folding machine. The books are published and sold under Simon’s own company, Timouns (timouns.com), named for a French Creole word for children.

“I’m definitely a multipassionate person,” Simon says. “I think all parts of this make me who I am. I don’t think I would be myself without one or the other.”

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