Theresa D’Aquila

Theresa D’Aquila is a postdoctoral research associate in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Her current research focuses on molecular nutrition — specifically how fat metabolizes in the body.

Theresa-D'Aquilaphoto by Mary Lide Parker
May 17th, 2017

When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Describe your research in five words.

“Fat freaks out your pancreas.”

A scientist — it has always been a scientist. Sure, the specific discipline has changed over time (marine biology, forensics, environmental science, nutrition), but I have always been interested in figuring out how the world around me works.

Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose research as a career path.

When I was an associate scientist at Pfizer in Groton, Connecticut, I attended a lecture given by Dr. Elizabeth Parks on how humans taste fat — and it blew my mind. That was the first time I heard of the concept of nutrition as a scientific discipline and it clicked with me. I immediately began looking at graduate school research programs for biochemical and molecular nutrition.

woman climbs rock wall

D’Aquila climbs the Bongu route (a 5.6 difficulty) on the Wall of Denial at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. Photo by Mary Lide Parker

What’s an interesting thing that’s happened during your research?

One time in the lab, I mixed up the “stir” and “heat” knobs on a stir plate. I came back into lab after lunch to find my experiment had completely melted into a gooey charred mess on the stir plate. To this day, the fridge smells of burnt plastic. Sorry, Dr. Buhman!

What advice would you give to up-and-coming female researchers in your field?

Maintain a good work/life balance. Having a hobby (for me it’s rock climbing) helps keep everything in perspective, helps you connect with new and interesting people, and keeps you grounded in what is important in life.

UNC Research is proud of every scientist on this campus, but we are especially excited to promote our female researchers in 2017. Each week this year, we will publish a short Q&A feature on one of them — whether she is an undergrad, PhD candidate, or full professor. Please click here to make a recommendation.