Two VCU faculty ranked among 2022’s top female scientists in nation and world

Sarah Spiegel and Barbara Boyan were recognized by for their groundbreaking research impact.

Headshot of Dean Barbara Boyan
Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., executive director of the Institute for Engineering and Medicine and Alice T. and William H. Goodwin, Jr. Professor in the VCU Department of Biomedical Engineering.

By Leila Ugincius has named two Virginia Commonwealth University faculty members among the top female scientists both nationally and globally in 2022: Sarah Spiegel, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department at the VCU School of Medicine, and Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., executive director of the Institute for Engineering and Medicine and Alice T. and William H. Goodwin, Jr. Professor in the VCU Department of Biomedical Engineering.

“Appearing on this list reflects not only high interest in these specific sub-fields but also of the high quality of our researchers’ work,” said P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D., vice president for Research and Innovation at VCU. “It is really a proud moment for VCU to know that our women scientists are nationally prominent, including being among the top 100. It’s also inspirational to the next generation of female scientists that they can achieve excellence and prominence at VCU.”

In the national ranking, Spiegel is the only scientist in the state to crack the top 100 at No. 96, with a global ranking of 148. She is recognized for her numerous, seminal contributions to understanding the biological functions of the lipid sphingosine-1-phosphate, “a molecule she originally discovered in the mid-1990s and has since been found to play important roles in cancer progression, inflammation and cardiovascular disease,” Rao said. “A colleague of hers says that she launched and sustained ‘an entire field of biochemistry.’”

In addition to her scientific achievements, Spiegel has a long record of leadership within the scientific community as department chair, graduate program director, cancer center program leader, and mentor for 20 graduate students and 75 postdoctoral fellows, many of whom have gone on to distinguished research careers.

“I was pleased that this field that I helped develop is now receiving much attention,” Spiegel said. “I hope that promoting women in STEM will inspire young girls to pursue research careers and will address the underrepresentation of women in science.”

Boyan, who was ranked No. 358 nationally and No. 579 globally for her work in cell biology, biomedical engineering and internal medicine, said that VCU has provided an environment that has enabled women to pursue their scientific passion.

“Always at the core of everything we do in my lab is basic cellular biology and understanding the mechanisms that drive cells to do the things they do,” she said. “From an early age, I wanted to understand why biology works the way it does so that new technologies could be developed to help people lead improved lives.”

“As a biologist, I focused on the cells involved and how they are regulated in health and disease,” Boyan said. “Because my focus was calcification, I also studied bone physiology and from there bone regeneration and treatment of pediatric disorders in the cranium, like synostosis (premature fusion of the sutures) and in the spine.”

Boyan recently transitioned from serving VCU as dean of the College of Engineering to her current role as executive director of the Institute for Engineering and Medicine. Her dedication to helping young scientists achieve their goals is reflected in her leadership as co-principal investigator on VCU's NSF-sponsored ADVANCE grant to advance the careers of diverse women in STEM and its NIH-sponsored BIRCWH grant (Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women's Health).

The first edition of’s ranking of top female scientists in the United States includes leading female scientists from all major areas of science. It was based on a meticulous examination of 166,880 scientists on Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic Graph.

“Both women are outstanding in their field and represent the kind of transdisciplinary, transformative research that we know can help change lives,” Rao said.