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Sarka O. Southern

Founder and CEO
GAIA Medical Institute

Country of origin: Czechoslovakia

What I do.
In 1981, I escaped from the Czech secret police and subsequently was granted an exceptional ability residency in the United States. During my subsequent 20 years of academic research, I was the first to discover that the HIV virus took up residence in tissues other than white blood cells, and developed a new technology for monitoring how disease and environmental stress impact health. Now I lead the GAIA Research Institute, which I founded. GAIA is focused on the development and commercialization of new, noninvasive optical sensors that detect molecular signatures of health threats such as disease or environmental stress.

What I find exciting.
It is exciting to explore new scientific ideas in multiple disciplines: biology, chemistry, medicine, optics, and statistics. It is also exciting to translate the science into a practical tool for everyday use, and guide it through the commercialization process.

What I wish someone had told me.
A better understanding of the challenges in combining a career in science with a career of raising children well would have been helpful. I wanted to focus on rearing my children before they went to school, and the only way to do it was to quit my academic job for several years, which made it difficult for me to re-enter my science career. I wish women scientists and engineers had more choices for combining careers and family.